Starring Christian Friedel, Katharina Schüttler, Burghart Klaußner
Director Oliver Hirschbiegel (The Invasion, Downfall) once again tackles historical subject matter during WWII. This time he projects unsung war hero Georg Elser, who single-handedly tried to assassinate Adolf Hitler, to the big screen. 13 Minutes spends little time with the actual event, but introduces Elser to the world in dramatic fashion. Likely to be Germany’s submission to the foreign film awards competition, the drama takes an interesting point of view and the leading performance by Christian Friedel is engrossing. The imagery, especially cinematographer Judith Kaufmann’s work within the recreated city of Königsbronn, helps bring the viewer into the story. The biggest drawback of 13 Minutes is balancing historical information with the audience’s attention span.
Among various jobs, Georg Elser worked with wood, even making clocks and furniture at one point. While most German’s his age were fascinated with the rise of the Nazi party and all the advantages they promised the country, Georg saw the disturbing signs of what was to come. Known as a lover and a leaver, he takes up with married mother of two Elsa (Schüttler), a disgrace to his parents. His romance with Elsa is interrupted when he sees an opportunity to eliminate Hitler and other high-ranking officials at a local rally. The plan fails, Hilter survives and Georg becomes an enigma to the German police and the Nazi government. They refuse to accept one individual would act alone. “If humanity isn’t free, everything dies with it,” Elser proclaims.
Likely a foreign film contender, the drama takes an interesting point of view with an engrossing lead performance.
The thirteen minutes refers to the amount of time between success and failure of Elser’s plan. The title, previously and more simply called “Elser”, is a bit misleading as the failed assassination scene occurs within the opening credits. With other American films titled 15 Minutes (Robert DeNiro), 88 Minutes (Al Pacino), or 7 Minutes (Jason Ritter) the title isn’t gripping or something that would draw the viewer in. Neither is the bland poster for that matter. It’s a hard film to sell for sure, but from a historical perspective, and the screenplay does take cinematic liberties with a few facts, it’s still a point of interest.
The screenplay is divided between Elser’s brutal interrogation and flashbacks of the point leading up to his almost perfect plan. It’s much more of a historical biography than a thriller. Hirschbiegel’s work here never rises to the gripping nature of Downfall, but it’s another facet of the era unfamiliar to curious eyes. One of the more compelling aspects to the story is Arthur Nebe (Klaußner), the lead investigator who is good enough at his job and exploring evidence, to understand Elser is telling the truth. Like all dictatorships, The Nazi’s refuse the evidence, truth and obvious, demanding Nebe do whatever necessary to get affiliation names from Elser. The understanding between the two men is one of the screenplay’s highpoints.
While not the most riveting cinematic experience, 13 Minutes exposes a fascinating individual.