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Overall Rating
4.68

Awesome81.32%
Worth A Look: 13.19%
Just Average: 1.1%
Pretty Crappy: 1.1%
Sucks: 3.3%

4 reviews, 67 user ratings



Downfall
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by Jay Seaver

"A compelling history lesson."
5 stars

Hitler's a cliché. Less than a year ago, I saw a short film in which Udo Keir played Hitler hiding out in London after the war, in drag. I mention this because the scenes which opened that short are strikingly similar to ones near the end of Downfall, and because it's an example of what the man has become in the past sixty years: A subject of black humor. Indeed, when Bruno Ganz made his first appearance as Adolf Hitler in Downfall, laughs escaped from a few members of the audience because he's Hitler, with the silly mustache and tics and crazy ideas. It takes a moment for the audience to realize that, yes, Hitler is absurd, but the frightening kind of absurd, the type where the inconceivable is happening around you.

We see him interviewing new secretaries at first, choosing Traudl Junge (Alexadra Maria Lara), a pretty 22-year-old girl whose accent he fancies. She'll be our perspective character, a relative innocent who within three years will find herself in a Berlin bunker as the Russians close in and the Nazi leadership at first defiantly acts as though victory is still possible. Soon, though the focus becomes making the Allies' victory hollow while avoiding justice and personal humiliation.

Downfall is a sprawling movie, over two and a half hours long and quite capable of being expanded. It follows dozens of characters, from the top brass of the Nazi leadership to children manning the battlements. It's torturous, in some ways, since it doesn't take long for the end to be inevitable, and continued resistance is only prolonging suffering. The film manages to juggle its large cast quite well, though, and there aren't many moments when the audience is wondering why the concentration on this, when that was more interesting and we haven't seen it in a while.

Though it's a large ensemble, Bruno Ganz is obviously going to be the center of attention. He paints Hitler as human, but at no point is he sympathetic. His Hitler is clearly a monster, though he doesn't think of himself that way, despite obviously being aware that the world will see him as one. Since this is Hitler in moments when he's not on display, Ganz plays him as soft-spoken, with a bit of a speech impediment, an a sincere belief that he's a man of the people. He is alternately chilling in his contempt for the people who elected him (and he's not the only Nazi saying that the German people chose this route, and should thus follow it until the bitter end) and powerfully charismatic; the audience can see how this man was able to captivate an audience and be horrifically inspiring. The small moments are some of the most chilling, such as when he sits for a meal with the secretaries, and he seems profoundly happy to be with real people, completely unaware how much his presence is unnerving his underlings.

Just as interesting, though, are the women around him. Miss Junge is something of a blank slate, and an interesting choice as a viewpoint because she is not necessarily how we would see ourselves in that situation. She doesn't ever do anything evil herself, but she does watch it being done, and occasionally show loyalty to those who do it. There is a point near the end where she would seem to have the opportunity to do something heroic, but she doesn't. Then there's Eva Braun (Juliane Kohler), who seems to be willfully ignorant of the world around her, constantly wearing a smile and organizing picnics when the city is falling around her. She's devoted, but also seems to be something of a follower, pathetic in her jealousy of Hitler's dog. The most chilling figure of the movie may be Magda Goebbels (Corinna Harfouch), who is such a True Believer that not only can she not stand the thought of living in a world without National Socialism, she doesn't want it for her children, either.

That's by no means the end of the interesting figures. Some are somewhat sympathetic, whether they be generals who realize that the Allies will take Berlin but are good soldiers and attempt to implement Hitler's mad military strategy or an SS officer who sees his responsibilities as being to the people rather than self-preservation. Others are evil but cowardly, and others are blindly loyal as only children can be.

Director Oliver Hirschbiegel is best known in the United States for his theatrical debut, Das Experiment, and in a way that film was good practice for this one. Downfall shares themes of claustrophobic quarters, unstable people in power, with the walls closing in and people growing more desperate as time crawls by. Downfall doesn't have the same manic energy as Experiment - that wouldn't be appropriate - but it does share a willingness to tighten the screws, generating tension and suspense even though what happens is a matter of public record and the stuff of history textbooks. It's a much more assured film than Experiment, in part because Hirschbiegel's staging has improved and in part because he doesn't need to cover any weaknesses in the story with bombast.

Downfall is a compelling history lesson. It ends with clips of the recently-deceased Traudle Junge and screenfuls of facts on the surviving figures' eventual fates. Its value isn't just in being good for you, though, but in being tense and compelling enough that you're thankful for it.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=10634&reviewer=371
originally posted: 04/10/05 00:29:32
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Toronto Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

4/26/16 Ken Very well done movie from Germany. 5 stars
4/13/15 Trev29 better tittle is DOWN TRASH 1 stars
4/13/15 jokerass lol 1 stars
4/13/15 jokerass LOL this movie 2 stars
1/17/15 PAUL SHORTT INSTRUCTIVE, ENGROSSING STUDY OF THE CRUMPLE OF AN INDIVIDUAL AND AN IDEOLOGY 5 stars
1/09/15 michael overrated piece of crap 1 stars
10/01/12 scott maxwell a good movie 4 stars
4/03/12 Marty Drags on a bit, but some very eerie scenes here. stark look at nazism 4 stars
5/08/10 millersxing My favorite WWII film because it tells the unspeakable story without artifice. 5 stars
2/11/10 R.W.Welch Grim, realistic account of the Reich's last days. Remarkable recreation of the time. B+ 4 stars
2/25/08 pkr quite mediocre and over-beautified story of last days of adolf. 3 stars
2/10/08 Mark Excellent filmmaking, fantastic cast! 5 stars
1/10/08 V Incredible, especially Ganz 5 stars
11/15/06 David A towering achievement. 5 stars
11/03/06 AP Astonishing acting by Bruno Ganz and an incredible movie experience. 5 stars
10/03/06 dickie t best film I've seen this year 5 stars
6/19/06 John Kiene A truely great work of film production in every way, outstanding 5 stars
6/12/06 Luis Morales Hard to find fault with the content and the acting. 5 stars
5/18/06 chienne Yes, a creepy, yet compelling film. Brilliant. 5 stars
5/11/06 SpyV Facinating, horrifying. Required viewing. 5 stars
4/16/06 CPT Hoolie Stunning. Incredible performance by Bruno Ganz 5 stars
12/19/05 rk best movie I saw on DVD in 2005; an unexpected gem; highly recommneded 5 stars
10/07/05 ElizabethQ Exelent movie! Very real,well plaied 5 stars
9/22/05 Phil M. Aficionado Strong is the best word ... strong in every way. Still astonishing after all these years. 5 stars
9/15/05 tatum Straightforward telling with phenomenal acting 5 stars
8/22/05 Ole Man Bourbon A somewhat interesting historical hypothetical, may take some liberties to glorify chars 4 stars
6/24/05 Mark Holmes Fabulous 5 stars
6/15/05 adrian ace love nazi wwII movies and this is one of the best 5 stars
6/15/05 Dave Fan-Dabby-Doby 5 stars
6/12/05 Monster W. Kung Extremely well done. 4 stars
6/12/05 matthew smith a powerful history lesson 5 stars
5/23/05 Dom Tough, but watch it 5 stars
5/22/05 Green Gremlin The best German war movie since "Das Boot". 5 stars
5/11/05 Beardog8 Great performances everywhere 5 stars
5/06/05 MR Peabody Superb! 5 stars
4/27/05 Elizabeth S Excellent! 5 stars
4/24/05 Henry Hopton Truly excellent. An outstanding representation which is horrifically real. 5 stars
4/23/05 John Bale Devastatingly realistic, Ganz's Hitler given depth by outstanding performance 5 stars
4/23/05 Arnold An epic film. As a history enthusiast, I am of the opinion that this is (by far) the best t 5 stars
4/21/05 Graham Just-the-facts approach to a touchy subject, and all the better for it. 4 stars
4/13/05 Frenzy bad 4 stars
3/24/05 craig varney this movie has no downfall 4 stars
3/12/05 Mark Fulwiler an outstanding achievement 5 stars
3/11/05 Mussolini It should have been me!! 5 stars
3/06/05 John stunning performances in a great film 5 stars
3/01/05 Littlepurch Horrifying,disturbing,yet utterly brilliant.Couldn't lk away,much as I sumtimes wanted to. 5 stars
1/31/05 Matti Söderberg Really stunning performance by Ganz. Third Reich inside a single bunker. 5 stars
1/15/05 pramod good 4 stars
1/11/05 Irene Heller Incredible. Thought-provoking, informative. Ganz' acting superb. Should be seen . 5 stars
1/10/05 Declan Crean Best film i've seen in years.Hard but brillant 5 stars
12/09/04 Ralph Jas Incredibly gripping film. A brave attempt indeed, and a triumph in every conceivable way. 5 stars
12/03/04 Harvey Flinder A staggering achievement. On every level this gets 10 / 10. See it 5 stars
12/01/04 Nick deecee "Blows you away! One of the best historical films of all time!!" 5 stars
11/09/04 Silke Stunning Movie 5 stars
10/25/04 Judith Absolutely stunning performance and still as fact-based as can be, not a Hollywood epic 5 stars
10/24/04 tom A very realistic depiction of Hitler without the "Hitler is bad" propaganda of Hollywood 5 stars
10/24/04 Flupptrack One of the best movies about WWII ever made 5 stars
10/09/04 Andy I'm only 17 and it gave me an insight into life 60 years ago. Horrible but fascinating!!! 5 stars
10/04/04 Jafet Israel Lara This is the best film about HItler´s life (the last 12 days). Bruno Ganz is perfect. 4 stars
10/04/04 Solidus68 He asked them to kill, and they obeyed. Watch the movie and you'll understand why. 5 stars
10/03/04 Jonathan Skeet Difficult to watch... 4 stars
9/29/04 zuckuss13@aol.com Brilliant film, amazing acting. Had to come to Berlin to see it. 5 stars
9/23/04 Mike Strange to see Hitler portrayed in this way. Very worthwhile watching! 4 stars
9/22/04 Kjelt A perfect movie with a stunning performance by Bruno Ganz. 5 stars
9/21/04 mr kotwurst one of the best german movies of all times. 5 stars
9/17/04 Martin Superbly acted and authoritatively realistic.An experience that will haunt you for days. 5 stars
9/16/04 Richard Lush A brilliant lesson for today. 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  18-Feb-2005 (R)
  DVD: 02-Aug-2005

UK
  N/A

Australia
  21-Apr-2005




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