Although 13 Minutes—a German film about Georg Elser’s 1939 attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler—has all the ingredients of a compelling thriller, it quickly falls flat.
After exploring the final, claustrophobic days in Adolf Hitler’s underground bunker in the critically acclaimed 2004 film Downfall, German director Oliver Hirschbiegel revisits Nazi Germany with 13 Minutes, a film about Georg Elser’s attempt to assassinate Hitler in a Munich beer hall in November 1939. Elser’s handmade bomb detonated 13 minutes too late, killing eight people and wounding more than 60 others.
The film begins with Elser carrying out his ill-fated plan—a suspenseful scene full of effective details. As he installs his handmade bomb in the wall behind the speaker’s podium, his breath is rapid and frantic; he is working under threat of being discovered. His fingers ache, his knees are bloody from installing the explosive. It establishes a tense and driving pace for the narrative.
Despite a promising start, the film quickly goes flat as it draws too-tidy parallels between the Gestapo’s interrogations and flashbacks to Elser’s hometown. As a result, Hirschbiegel tells what, but not why. That Elser tried to assassinate Hitler does not inherently make him a compelling protagonist. Instead of exploring the reasons behind Elser’s opinions of Nazism and the direction of his country, the film relies solely on shots of him looking uneasy. A subplot involving his lover and her inebriated, physically abusive husband teeters on the verge of caricature and only further distracts from the main story.
By skirting on the surface of the topic without plumbing any intriguing depths, 13 Minutes sparks more questions than answers, and fails to humanize Elser as a complex individual.
Film Recon is a new web series by Paraag Shukla, Senior Editor of World War II and Aviation History magazines at HistoryNet.
13 Minutes opens in select theaters in June 2017.