Georg Elser tried to kill Hitler before it was trendy

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

13 Minutes
Opens July 21

Broadway Theatre
2.5 out of 5

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that lots of people tried to kill Adolf Hitler. The ones who came the closest were Germans disenchanted with the Führer’s leadership skills (or lack thereof) more than his crimes against humanity.

Georg Elser was a different beast. He saw the danger in 1939 and was not for a second fooled by Hitler’s “make Germany great again” posturing.

13 Minutes chronicles Elser’s assassination attempt, his source of inspiration, and the brutal treatment he endured once captured. The hero of the piece (Christian Friedel, The White Ribbon) was a carpenter and part-time musician who saw the march to war as damaging to the spirit of Königsbronn, a rural community in which labels like ‘communist’ or ‘Jewish’ didn’t matter.

His response — trying to take out Hitler at a party event — nearly worked. His bomb went off on schedule, causing a number of casualties among the Nazi faithful. Unfortunately, the intended target left the building 13 minutes before the explosion and Elser was promptly captured.

Even though the insurgent was swiftly sentenced to death, his refusal to name names (nobody believed he acted alone) and his bomb craftsmanship extended his life more than anyone could have expected.

Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel (Downfall, the source of all those Hitler parody videos), 13 Minutes is competent but feels a bit by-the-numbers. Not helping is Friedel’s performance as Elser, which is cold and clinical and creates distance with the audience.

Flashback-heavy and slow, 13 Minutes is at its best whenever tension escalates: Elser being grilled (figuratively and literally) by the Gestapo, or having to deal with his lover’s angry spouse give the film a (weak) pulse. Maybe Hirschbiegel’s Hollywood flops (Diana, The Invasion) have taken a toll on his ability to create compelling characters, and now he must exploit his greatest hits (Nazi movies) to remain relevant.

Regardless of 13 Minutes’ shortcomings, the indictment of inaction in the face of totalitarianism is as topical as ever. Remember: no matter the circumstances, “down with Nazis” is always the right answer.❧