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Released: 2004

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 2 hr 35 min

MPAA Rating: R

Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel

Starring: Bruno Ganz, Alexandra Maria Lara, Corinna Harfouch, Ulrich Matthes, Juliane Köhler

Historical epic takes us inside Hitler’s bunker during the final days of the Third Reich.

A dangerously skewed film.

Review by: MiamiMovieCritic

Added: 8 years ago

In his review of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, film critic Roger Ebert wrote: “I prefer to evaluate a film on the basis of what it intends to do, not on what I think it should have done.”

Allow me to violently disagree.

Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Downfall, which is one of the first German productions to deal at length with the Nazis, depicts the final years of the Third Reich. Based in part on the memoirs of Hitler’s stenographer, Traudl Junge, this 2005 Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar nominee achieves a grim authenticity as it stalks the mazelike bunker below Berlin, where the Fuhrer pores over maps and screams himself blue in the face before blowing his own head off.

The fact that Junge claims to have been largely unaware of the Nazis’ misdeeds while she was under their employment strikes me as very convenient. Telling the film through her point-of-view gives Hirschbiegel the dramatic license to ignore the war’s most unimaginable atrocities. A postscript states, “Six million Jews were murdered,” and it almost comes across as an apology for the filmmaker’s reckless oversight.

By now, most filmmakers seem to understand the risks they’re taking with the Holocaust. When Schindler’s List grossed $321 million worldwide, director Steven Spielberg dispensed his profits to Holocaust and Jewish-continuity projects. “It was blood money,” Spielberg said in an interview with the New York Times Magazine.

Hirschbiegel doesn’t seem to have learned the same lesson. What makes his film so infuriating is how absolutely compelling it is. Every time the director invited me to connect with the officers onscreen on an emotional level, a little voice in my head said, “Dude, they’re Nazis!”

If you can get past the film’s questionable narrative device, this is a vivid historical epic. Hirschbiegel meticulously recreates the fall of Berlin, and Bruno Ganz’s lead performance is a triumph of controlled lunacy. There’s also a heartbreaking subplot involving the horribly brainwashed children of Joseph and Magda Goebbels. Still, I couldn’t help thinking I was watching a dangerously skewed film.

To watch a hilarious video featuring a scene from Downfall, click here.