Saturday 25 July 2015

Review: 13 Minutes (aka Elser)

World of Blackout Film Review

13 Minutes Poster

13 Minutes (aka Elser)
Cert: 15 / 114 mins / Dir. Oliver Hirschbiegel / Trailer
WoB Rating: 5/7

As the widely-ranged Friday afternoon audience settled in their seats and the BBFC card drew the line between trailers and content, the weirdest thing happened. 13 Minutes, the fact-based film about Georg Elser's unsuccessful assassination attempt of Adolf Hitler in 1939, opens with a black-screen, white text and the ticking of a clock. This instantly put me in mind of Back To The Future, and a part of my brain thought 'hang on, is this a time-travel/killing-Hitler movie?'. It's not.

The film opens (as you might have guessed) with Elser's arming of the bomb he planted in Munich, its detonation (which occurred 13 minutes after Hitler had left the building, hence the film's title), and we're then taken methodically and matter-of-factly through Georg's arrest and interrogation, leading into a series of escalating flashbacks which begin seven years previously in 1932. At the start of these, Georg is basically a mess, unable to commit to his marriage, religion or political affiliations. The film sees the development of his awareness as Hitler's Germany deteriorates around him but, crucially, this transformation is largely self-contained, so that his meticulous bomb-plot isn't technically (or morally) sense-checked by his contemporaries. Elser isn't unduly lionised, to the film's credit, but even at the end I felt like I didn't know as much as I wanted to about his motivations. The closing credits state that sections of his private life are "dramatised", so maybe the documented history doesn't exist?

The biggest stumbling block that director Oliver Hirschbiegel hits is his protagonist, a man doing largely the right thing for largely the right reasons*1, but with an erratic sense of principle and not enough direction. Elser is a hero who's quite difficult to like, even if you appreciate his aims; he's not Tom Cruise in Valkyrie, and he's not Brad Pitt in Inglourious Basterds. And yet the thing which prevents the film being a straightforward tale of good vs evil is also the thing which makes it interesting. Because of the internal nature of Georg's transformation and him having no other characters to bounce his ideas off, I wasn't completely sold by his eventual conviction (as in, his moral conviction, not his criminal one; the film leaves that in no doubt), but that's real-life protagonists for you.

Another potentially troublesome aspect of the story is the extended interrogation itself that was inflicted on Georg as the authorities refused to believe he'd orchestrated the plan by himself. 13 Minutes is a film which doesn't particularly enjoy its scenes of violence, but by the same token it doesn't shy away from them either ('wounds' are inflicted mostly off-camera; this isn't Eli Roth), and you'll wince as often as you would watching a more exploitative film. There's also a hanging-scene which seems oddly out-of-kilter with the rest of the screenplay, but we can discuss that in the comments when you disagree with me.

Given the factual nature of the story, I can't help but feel it might have been more suited to a dramatised documentary, but it's a fascinating watch either way.

A hypnotic study of indecision, introspection and regret with a couple of acoustic/folk numbers thrown in. 13 Minutes is the Inside Llewyn Davis of wartime assassination-plot movies.

Is this film worth paying £10+ to see?
It is, but only if you know it's going to be your type of thing.

Well, I don't like the cinema. Buy it, rent it, or wait for it to be on telly?
There'll be relatively few people who'll want to have this on their shelf; a rental/stream should do you.

Does this film represent the best work of the leading performer(s)?
Can't say, but all of the cast are fantastic in this.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
In terms of general awareness of the events, yes.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
I won't.

Oh, and is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?

…but what's the Star Wars connection?
Well, 13 Minutes stars Burghart Klaußner, who also appeared in 2008's Mediator which starred Ewen Bremner who played Spud in 1996's Trainspotting alongside Ewan 'Kenobi' McGregor.
(all roads lead to Kenobi, today)

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 This is with the benefit of hindsight, of course. The attempted assassination took place in November 1939, two months after the declaration of war, and while Hitler was definitely an arsehole then, he still wasn't quite the arsehole he would become, ie the one we remember now. Although again, had Georg finished his time-machine, his justification would have been greater ;)

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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