13 Minutes

13 Minutes

Directed By Oliver Hirschbiegel

Rating: 4/5

Underdogs and people who fight for the greater good are often portrayed as wholesome characters whose only flaw is that they care too much. Based on the true story of Georg Elser, a German man who attempted to assassinate Adolf Hitler, 13 Minutes is a carefully composed film that focuses on the lead up to this event and on a protagonist whose motivations showcase all the gritty facets of his character.

A few hours before Hitler is due to give his annual speech, Georg (Christian Friedel) can be seen setting up a bomb in the Munich beer halls. However, his suspicious behaviour had already attracted the attention of the Gestapo, Nazi Germany’s secret police force, and they capture him as he tries to flee the scene. Georg’s bomb does goes off but, instead of killing Hitler, he ends up injuring several civilians and killing eight people. Hitler had left 13 minutes early and, inadvertently, saved his own life.

Eventually discovering the blueprints for the bomb, the Gestapo interrogate and brutally torture Georg. The protagonist’s initial unwillingness to cooperate is shown through his refusal to even state his own name and birthdate for the record. Georg eventually begins to cooperate and the audience is shown his backstory through a series of flashbacks, revealing his Catholic faith, his association with — but non-commitment to — left-wing politics, his complicated affair with Elsa (Katharina Schuttler) and, most importantly, his refusal to be caught up in the town’s frenzy of admiration for Hitler.

The director’s preoccupation with Georg’s biography rather than the event itself makes the protagonist realistic and vulnerable. However, in doing so, he also offers a film that is very grave and almost documentary-like. This works in Hirschbiegel’s favour through the film’s romantic subplot involving Elsa. Looking at those scenes in isolation, the audience feels as though Georg is a coward, instead of a hero. Presenting Georg as a conflicted character makes him relatable — he does not fall within the superhero archetype.

With Hirschbiegel’s stylistic approach to 13 Minutes, the film offers an emotive account of a fascinating historical story, leaving the audience with the dreaded question of “what if?”

This article first appeared in Issue 25, 2015.
Posted 1:45pm Sunday 27th September 2015 by Greta Melvin.