Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for sexuality and disturbing violence
In German with subtitles
Running time: 114 minutes
Production Studio: Lucky Bird Pictures
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Believe it or not, over a dozen different attempts to assassinate Adolf Hitler (Udo Schenk) were made before he took his own life in April of 1945. The year before, he only suffered minor injuries in the bombing that was the focus of “Valkyrie” (2008), a docudrama starring Tom Cruise.
Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel (Downfall), “13 Minutes” chronicles the first try after Hitler had taken control of Germany. The incident occurred in Munich on Nov. 8, 1939 in a hall where the Fuhrer was scheduled to deliver an address.
Trouble is, Georg Elser’s (Christian Friedel) homemade time bomb went off too late, as Hitler had completed his remarks and exited the building 13 minutes earlier accompanied by several henchmen, including Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels (Ulrich Matthes), Deputy Fuhrer Rudolf Hess, and the architect of the Holocaust, Heinrich Himmler (Ulrich Noethen).
Later that same day, Georg was apprehended while trying to slip into Switzerland. Border guards took him into custody upon discovering incriminating evidence in his possession suggested a connection to the explosion.
He was soon delivered to Germany’s Chief of Police Arthur Nebe (Burghart Klauszner) and Gestapo Chief Heinrich Muller (Johann von Bulow) for interrogation, but refused to answer any questions until they threatened to arrest his girlfriend Elsa (Katharina Schuttler), too. Georg confessed to protect her, but they still didn’t believe the simple carpenter could have possibly acted alone, given the powerful explosion that claimed eight lives and wounded 62.
So, they resorted to torture to extract the identities of his suspected accomplices that only existed in their imaginations. But Georg had nothing further to share, other than an explanation of exactly how he’d secretly amassed enough gunpowder to construct a weapon of mass destruction.
“13 Minutes” employs an unorthodox story structure, as it opens with the failed coup, and is followed by a series of Georg’s flashbacks. While behind bars, he reminisces about everything from his disgust with Nazis to his ill-fated relationship with Elsa.
A long-overdue tribute to an unsung hero who came that close to changing the course of history.