Elser (Christian Friedel) is a self-effacing, seemingly equable carpenter, raised in humble surroundings in a small German town. Though a member of the left wing organisation the Red Front Fighter’s Association, he went about his business in a generally isolated way – secretly plotting an assassination to kill Adolf Hitler. Using his craftsmanship to build a bomb, he plants it at a Munich-based venue where Hitler gives his annual speech. However as the bomb went off – killing seven people in the process, the demented leader was not one of them – as he had left the building just 13 minutes beforehand. Elser is not even granted longer than that himself before the SS, and in particular Nebe (Burghart Klau?ner), get their hands on him, taking him in for an unforgiving session of interrogation.
The story of Elser has been depicted on the big screen before, in Klaus Maria Brandauer’s 1989 endeavour Seven Minutes. But what is the difference between these two productions (and don’t say six)? First and foremost, it’s the structure of the narrative. Seven Minutes builds up towards the assassination attempt, whereas Hirschbiegel opens his production with that very scene. The latter’s decision is an intriguing one, because though in many ways it detracts from the suspense and intensity of the piece (which this film is undoubtedly lacking in), given we obviously know the plan failed, it can be perceived as being somewhat futile to build up towards it as though it may be a possibility. Which therefore means the more fascinating element to this production, is the livelihood of our protagonist himself, Georg Elser – so the decision to first show us what he attempted only to then go back and discover who he really was, and what led him to this courageous act of valiance, is a justifiable one.
Hirschbiegel moves freely in and out of flashbacks too, as the interrogation process provokes our protagonist to contemplate his life events. One of which is the romantic narrative between himself and the hapless, already married woman Elsa (Katharine Schüttler), which is frustratingly implemented, taking up far too much time, and deviating away from the far more profound and absorbing themes at play. Friedel excels in the leading role however, with a real everyman persona, which is imperative – as you can relate to him, and put yourself in his shoes. It’s naturally quite easy to feel endeared to somebody who went rogue and was brave enough to stage an assassination plot to kill Hitler, but it helps matters tremendously when portrayed by an actor in such a humanised, vulnerable way.
It’s also interesting to see the Second World War from the perspective of a German who is against Hitler’s actions, as so often in cinema we either view events from that of a Nazi, or a Jew. However regrettably Hirschbiegel’s execution of the material fails to live up to the premise, as what can only be described as a decent movie not quite doing enough justice to an otherwise remarkable story.