Captured at the border after the bomb has gone off, missing it’s intended target but killing eight innocent people as the building collapsed, Elser is interrogated by the Nazi’s hell bent on finding out who else was involved. Various brutal forms of torture are employed, even after it becomes increasingly clear to his interrogators that Elser acted alone.
Interspersed with the torture scenes are flashbacks showing how the simple and meek carpenter was driven to make the assassination attempt on history’s biggest villain. Carefree days spent swimming, singing, and womanizing are gradually changed as life in the small village is made difficult for those refusing to support the Nazis. His dreams of starting a life together with his married lover, Elsa (Katharina Schüttler) remain just that as salaries for non party members are paltry and rents much higher. At first refusing to take sides, Elser is gradually broken as he watches his friends get locked up in forced labor camps, and persecution of the Jews and their sympathisers.
Numerous attempts were made on Hitler’s life over the years, one of the most famous being by Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, who was portrayed by Tom Cruise in the 2008 film Valkyrie. But whereas that film was a traditional Hollywood thriller, this one lacks a lot of real tension. History tells us that (spoiler alert!) Hitler survived the bomb blast. The opening sequence shows the audience that Elser planted the bomb and was acting alone so his answers were never going to change no matter what torture device the Nazi’s tried next. Even the bomb blast itself is tension free, shown from a distance with no build up and little noise.
Nonetheless, director Oliver Hirschbiegel (Downfall) has produced a drama with some great performances, beautiful cinametography, and an obvious attention to detail for the time period being portrayed. Perhaps with a little trim to the running time, and restructuring of the story to build in some more tension, the film might not be so quickly forgotten and give Elser’s story a little bit more than it’s 13 minutes of fame.
MSB Reviewer Austin Barron