13 Minutes is a great example of a film with a simplistic plot that actually has a lot of meat on its bones. We already know the basic premise, as at the beginning of the film we see where the title of the film comes from, as Georg Elser, a criminally under-appreciated man, constructs a bomb to kill Adolf Hitler and many of his close associates. Of course the timer was 13 minutes too late as Hitler’s speech was shorter than expected, and Hitler subsequently escaped unscathed. After learning of the event he was furious with what had happened, and the film reflects this. It cleverly (and seamlessly) transitions from the treatment of Elser after he is caught, to flashbacks of Elser’s life before his desperate act. These two elements are roughly 50/50 in terms of screen time, and both say a lot about Elser, but also the rise of Nazi Germany, in a unique way that feels fresh and interesting.
During the scenes where he is increasingly pressured to talk about what he did by the Gestapo, we get an intimate glance into the nature of Hitler’s personal dissident police, who are determined to not only get a confession, but to also determine who this man was working for. Who helped him make this bomb? Torture of course is on the table, as the Gestapo become increasingly desperate to find the identity of who Elser was working for, and anything else about the man. This leads to more desperate measures to find the information. These scenes paint a damning yet accurate picture of the Gestapo, one different from most movies about the subject – and let’s face it – there certainly is no shortage of Word War II films. Additionally, when we hear the men talking about what Hitler wants, we get further insight into how the Gestapo behaved, and their connection to Hitler himself.
The other element of this film is made up of flashbacks to Elser’s experiences as the Nazi regime came to power, and the events that lead to his extreme attempt on Hitler’s life. What the film does especially well is slowly advancing the timeline of these flashbacks, letting us see the gradual rise of Nazism in Germany, as the propaganda slowly rises, as well as the amount of people who are wearing uniforms, not to mention the increasing disdain for other races and the desire to create a racially pure Germany.
It is a refreshing technique, obviously needed considering the date that Elser planted the bomb – which was the 8th of November, 1939 – but it makes the film much more intriguing than it could have been, as well as separating it from similar films about Nazi Germany. It certainly separates itself from films focusing on the same period of history by flowing in the way it does.
Despite the fact we know from the beginning that Elser plants the bomb, both the past and the present situations aren’t predictable and lend a feeling of tension to the film. It is never quite clear what Elser’s fate will be when we are in the present, as he is forced to reveal how he built the bomb while consistently being asked who gave him the orders, and similarly when we are in the film’s past, we don’t know how Elser’s will act. We know what his experiences culminate into, but because the flashback elements of the film slowly advance from the early 1930’s to the beginning of Germany’s blitzkrieg attack on Poland, we don’t know what Elser will do, or how he will act in a country that is slowly but surely slipping into the hands of fascism. We only know his final decision.
It obviously helps if you are a history or World War II buff, as the film is unpredictable and filled with interesting developments, most prominently during the flashbacks as Elser starts as a simple musician who is in disagreement with what what is developing in his country that is step by step being taken over by the Nazi party. Personally as a massive WWII buff, I did not know of this story and it is rather incredible that this bold man’s actions are not widely known. His name should be known by more people, to understate it vastly.
During the scenes that take place during the present time of the film, it is again interesting to see the behaviour of the Gestapo and how, much like the SS, they are simply ‘following orders’ from Hitler and unfortunately have been convinced that the country must be racially cleansed. Hitler of course is not happy with the situation when he learns about it, and is putting extra pressure on the Gestapo officers to extract information from Elser.
Of course this is a film, and despite it being based on a true story, the events depicted must be taken with a grain of salt. But as mentioned, it is awful that Georg Elser and his actions and courage are not widely known, and as a WWII history buff I can safely say that I learned about some aspects of what was happening in Germany before they openly declared war, as well of course Elser’s actions. It is a fascinating watch.
With a script as tight as a snare drum and fantastic acting from the entire cast (most of which seem to be fairly unknown actors outside of Germany), this film makes the most of its subject and it handles the switches between past and present with ease. This is a great film that is a must watch for anyone interested in World War II history, as well as fans of foreign cinema. It is educational, tense, and surprisingly unpredictable due to the way the film transpires. This is definitely one of the better films I have seen in 2015. Interestingly, this film was directed by the same man who directed Downfall, another fantastic World War II film that focuses on Hitler’s last days. I highly recommend that film too, as it is filled with rock-solid performances, much like this one.
This really is a hard film to find flaws in. One beer short of a sixer.
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