Instead of leading up to a film climax of trying to assassinate Adolf Hitler, “13 Minutes” stages the 1939 assassination attempt near the beginning, then works backward into the life of the would-be killer, Georg Elser (Christian Friedel). He was a real person whose planted bomb went off 13 minutes after Hitler left his meeting in Munich earlier than he was supposed to leave.
What makes this film, directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel and co-written by Fred Breinersdorfer and Léonie-Claire Breinersdorfer, different and especially interesting is the way it portrays Elser’s life in the context of the evolvement of Nazi domination in Germany and the effect it was having. It is a portrait of a society as well as of a man and his deed.
We meet Elser when he is young and just starting to become radical. He isn’t a group activist, but his sympathies are with those protesting. We see him becoming gradually appalled at the actions of the Nazis, including persecution of Jews, until he decides he must do something to stop World War II at its beginning. Murdering Hitler is his answer.
We see early on Elser’s concentration on wooing young women, and how he eventually fixes on Elsa (Katharina Schüttler), a married woman with whom he has an affair and subsequently leaves to undertake his secret mission that he cannot even tell her about. She is clearly saddened at his departure.
Clues lead to Elser’s capture, and the Nazi officials who interrogate him can’t believe he acted on his own. He is brutally tortured, which we get to see and recoil at, but there are no names to reveal. Finally, after much painful interrogation and Elser demonstrating how his carpenter work and work on clocks gave him the skill to make the explosives and plant the bomb, they believe him.
But that doesn’t satisfy Hitler, and the interrogators are pressed to torture him further so that Communists or other enemies of Nazism can be exposed and blamed.
The film intercuts Elser’s present with the past, so that we get the whole story climaxed not only with his execution on Hitler’s personal order, but with the irony of one of his interrogators, who was convinced Elser was telling the truth, being executed for having subsequently plotted against Hitler. The film has a grim reality, and although some has been fictionalized, it is presented basically as the true story of an an important piece of history.
The acting is excellent, particularly by Friedel as Elser, but also by Schüttler, as well as by those portraying the officials in charge of the torture—Burghard Klaussner as head of the Criminal police Arthur Nebe and Johann von Bülow as head of Gestapo Heinruch Müller. Cinematographer Judith Kaufmann achieves a period look, as does costume designer Bettina Marx. A Beta Cinema elease. Reviewed June 30, 2017.