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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 13.19%
Average: 1.1%
Pretty Bad: 1.1%
Total Crap: 3.3%

4 reviews, 67 user ratings

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by MP Bartley

"Springtime for Hitler and Ger - oops, wrong movie."
5 stars

There's probably not a historical figure as hatefully compelling as Adolf Hitler. How on earth can one man be so hellbent on genocide and destruction and motivate one, not especially large European country, to nearly bring the rest of the world on its knees? There are no easy answers and Downfall offers few, but fittingly, it's a German film that provides probably the greatest insight into the last dog days of the Third Reich.

1945 and the Russians are slowly advancing into Berlin. The German army is crippled and awaiting the inevitable final blow that will signal victory for the allies. The only person unwilling to bow to the inevitable and cede surrender is Hitler (Bruno Ganz), who remains convinced that he has an army of thousands at his disposal, just awaiting their moment to strike. Hitler is holed up in his extensive underground complex alongside others such as Eva Braun (Juliane Koehler), Joseph Goebbels (Ulrich Matthes) his wife Magda (Corianna Harfouch), and Hitler's personal secretary Traudl Junge (Alexandra Maria Lara). Also there are the last few generals and loyal Nazis that Hitler has, who are much more aware than he that the final day is looming.

'Downfall' is one of the most disturbing war movies that you will probably ever see. Not because it takes the obvious routes of having Hitler rant and rave about his enemies and the Jews, but because the screenplay by Bernd Eichinger is much more intelligent than that. Instead, we witness aghast as people like Hitler and Goebbels casually dismiss thousands of their own German people to an early grave through starvation and poverty as they "don't deserve" to survive. These final few Nazis are much more concerned with how their legacy will be remembered after the war, and just who exactly will take the blame for the horrors that Germany caused. Twinned with this intricate screenplay is the astonishing direction by Oliver Hirschbiegel (whose last film, Das Experiment is one of the finest thrillers produced outside of Hollywood), who ratchets up the tension and horror gradually filling the bunker. It's a grim and nihilistic vision of what is almost a collective madness as suicide and murder sweep these people, as the crumbling Berlin outside neatly reflects the crumbling mind of Hitler.

Ah yes, Hitler. How to portray the most evil man of the 20th century without descending into histronics or parody? Why, cast Bruno Ganz of course. Ganz wisely plays Hitler as what he was, a man, instead of a raving lunatic, which means that the moments when Hitler does explode into a viscious tirade of screaming are all the more powerful when contrasted to his quieter moments. Indeed, when we're first introduced to Hitler in 1943, he's a soft-spoken, almost avuncular figure compared to the mentally broken shambolic figure afflicted with Parkinson's disease in 1945. Ganz is alternately terrifying and pathetic, and you can use as many adjectives as you see fit, but they really can't do justice to his performance here.

Almost matching him are Matthes and Harfouch as the Goebbels, two people as twisted and repellent as Hitler himself. They've quite clearly toppled into the realm of the insane and the moment where Magda sends her children to sleep is one of the most chilling you'll ever see. Also excellent is Koehler, as the besotted lover of Hitler. Refusing to acknowledge the imminent defeat, she's determined to keep everyone smiling and in one of the most grotesque scenes, organises a party for the Nazis as the bombs rage outside, metaphorically dancing on the graves of the 50 million dead from the war.

And lastly, praise should go to Lara as the young secretary, unwittingly caught up in Hitler's madness. Wisely, Eichinger and Hirschbiegel refrain from making her adopt the moral high ground and pass judgement on everyone. Instaed, she can only watch horrified as the only way of life and country she's ever known is slowly ground into dust. It's a brave, but ultimately correct, move. After all, it's World War 2 and the Nazis we're talking about - does anyone not have a moral judgement anyway?

I'm of the firm belief that no-one will ever be able to fully understand someone like Hitler - after all, if they could what does that say about them? But Downfall takes us as terrifyingly close as possible. It's not only one of the greatest war films ever made, but probably one of the greatest horror films too.

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originally posted: 01/18/06 21:04:57
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Toronto Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

4/27/16 Ken Very well done movie from Germany. 5 stars
4/13/15 Trev29 better tittle is DOWN TRASH 1 stars
4/13/15 jokerass lol 1 stars
4/13/15 jokerass LOL this movie 2 stars
1/09/15 michael overrated piece of crap 1 stars
10/01/12 scott maxwell a good movie 4 stars
4/04/12 Marty Drags on a bit, but some very eerie scenes here. stark look at nazism 4 stars
5/08/10 millersxing My favorite WWII film because it tells the unspeakable story without artifice. 5 stars
2/12/10 R.W.Welch Grim, realistic account of the Reich's last days. Remarkable recreation of the time. B+ 4 stars
2/26/08 pkr quite mediocre and over-beautified story of last days of adolf. 3 stars
2/10/08 Mark Excellent filmmaking, fantastic cast! 5 stars
1/10/08 V Incredible, especially Ganz 5 stars
11/16/06 David A towering achievement. 5 stars
11/04/06 AP Astonishing acting by Bruno Ganz and an incredible movie experience. 5 stars
10/04/06 dickie t best film I've seen this year 5 stars
6/19/06 John Kiene A truely great work of film production in every way, outstanding 5 stars
6/13/06 Luis Morales Hard to find fault with the content and the acting. 5 stars
5/19/06 chienne Yes, a creepy, yet compelling film. Brilliant. 5 stars
5/12/06 SpyV Facinating, horrifying. Required viewing. 5 stars
4/16/06 CPT Hoolie Stunning. Incredible performance by Bruno Ganz 5 stars
12/20/05 rk best movie I saw on DVD in 2005; an unexpected gem; highly recommneded 5 stars
10/08/05 ElizabethQ Exelent movie! Very real,well plaied 5 stars
9/22/05 Phil M. Aficionado Strong is the best word ... strong in every way. Still astonishing after all these years. 5 stars
9/16/05 tatum Straightforward telling with phenomenal acting 5 stars
8/23/05 Ole Man Bourbon A somewhat interesting historical hypothetical, may take some liberties to glorify chars 4 stars
6/25/05 Mark Holmes Fabulous 5 stars
6/16/05 adrian ace love nazi wwII movies and this is one of the best 5 stars
6/15/05 Dave Fan-Dabby-Doby 5 stars
6/13/05 Monster W. Kung Extremely well done. 4 stars
6/12/05 matthew smith a powerful history lesson 5 stars
5/23/05 Dom Tough, but watch it 5 stars
5/23/05 Green Gremlin The best German war movie since "Das Boot". 5 stars
5/12/05 Beardog8 Great performances everywhere 5 stars
5/06/05 MR Peabody Superb! 5 stars
4/27/05 Elizabeth S Excellent! 5 stars
4/24/05 Henry Hopton Truly excellent. An outstanding representation which is horrifically real. 5 stars
4/24/05 John Bale Devastatingly realistic, Ganz's Hitler given depth by outstanding performance 5 stars
4/24/05 Arnold An epic film. As a history enthusiast, I am of the opinion that this is (by far) the best t 5 stars
4/21/05 Graham Just-the-facts approach to a touchy subject, and all the better for it. 4 stars
4/14/05 Frenzy bad 4 stars
3/25/05 craig varney this movie has no downfall 4 stars
3/13/05 Mark Fulwiler an outstanding achievement 5 stars
3/12/05 Mussolini It should have been me!! 5 stars
3/07/05 John stunning performances in a great film 5 stars
3/02/05 Littlepurch Horrifying,disturbing,yet utterly brilliant.Couldn't lk away,much as I sumtimes wanted to. 5 stars
2/01/05 Matti Söderberg Really stunning performance by Ganz. Third Reich inside a single bunker. 5 stars
1/15/05 pramod good 4 stars
1/12/05 Irene Heller Incredible. Thought-provoking, informative. Ganz' acting superb. Should be seen . 5 stars
1/11/05 Declan Crean Best film i've seen in years.Hard but brillant 5 stars
12/10/04 Ralph Jas Incredibly gripping film. A brave attempt indeed, and a triumph in every conceivable way. 5 stars
12/04/04 Harvey Flinder A staggering achievement. On every level this gets 10 / 10. See it 5 stars
12/02/04 Nick deecee "Blows you away! One of the best historical films of all time!!" 5 stars
11/09/04 Silke Stunning Movie 5 stars
10/26/04 Judith Absolutely stunning performance and still as fact-based as can be, not a Hollywood epic 5 stars
10/25/04 tom A very realistic depiction of Hitler without the "Hitler is bad" propaganda of Hollywood 5 stars
10/25/04 Flupptrack One of the best movies about WWII ever made 5 stars
10/09/04 Andy I'm only 17 and it gave me an insight into life 60 years ago. Horrible but fascinating!!! 5 stars
10/05/04 Jafet Israel Lara This is the best film about HItler´s life (the last 12 days). Bruno Ganz is perfect. 4 stars
10/04/04 Solidus68 He asked them to kill, and they obeyed. Watch the movie and you'll understand why. 5 stars
10/04/04 Jonathan Skeet Difficult to watch... 4 stars
9/30/04 Brilliant film, amazing acting. Had to come to Berlin to see it. 5 stars
9/24/04 Mike Strange to see Hitler portrayed in this way. Very worthwhile watching! 4 stars
9/23/04 Kjelt A perfect movie with a stunning performance by Bruno Ganz. 5 stars
9/22/04 mr kotwurst one of the best german movies of all times. 5 stars
9/18/04 Martin Superbly acted and authoritatively realistic.An experience that will haunt you for days. 5 stars
9/17/04 Richard Lush A brilliant lesson for today. 5 stars
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  18-Feb-2005 (R)
  DVD: 02-Aug-2005



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