This is not the first film to capture the final days of Hitler and the Third Reich, but it is the only one I have seen, and it is some kind of masterpiece. What seems most amazing to me is that this is a German/Austrian film production. I say this because it is understandable and not surprising that this is (still) a very sensitive subject for them. This film does some incredible things, among them, breaking one of the final taboos for them, which is having an actor portraying Hitler instead of using stock footage of the real man.
This film doesn't humanize Hitler, because well, he was already human, but it does not make you sympathetic to him, and you won't be finding yourself being a fan of him either. It does present him as well-rounded and multi-dimensial though. There is one scene (but only one) where he seems almost really kind and grandfatherly, but it is well-played. The rest of the film shows him as he truly likely was: feeble, riddled with Parkinson's, deranged, sickly, and patheticallly trying to hold on to something he knows is lost, but can't bring himself to give up.
This is a very fascinating and absorbing film. It helps that they used several books (memoirs and biographies), and at least one historical monograph as the basis for the screenplay and as a guide for the sets, costumes, and characterizations. This works extremely well as both cinematic art and as dramatized history.
The casting and the performances are absolutely brilliant. The actors bear striking resemblances to the people they are portraying, and their performances are frighteningly mesmerizing. Ganz pretty much owns the picture as Hitler. I've seen him in other movies, but this is by far his best and most challenging work. Alexandra Maria Lara is also terrific as Hitler's secretary Traudl Junge, and the two people who play Herr and Frau Goebbels are also quite excellent, but the whole cast is. These are just my favorites.
This film is unglamorous and totally captivating. Even though it came out in 2004, it still provokes strong reactions and debates. This is a sign that the filn is a success. My only real complaint is that the film doesn't really delve into the atrocities, and that it doesn't touch upon the last days from the point of view of civilians very much. Apparently the latter gets covered more and better in the extended cut of the film, but still, you could make an entire movie over that subject, and I'd really like to see that. But I'm a social historian, so of course I would.
Okay, here's the deal. This is not a film where you really care about the characters, but you're not really meant to either. Maybe Tradl Junge a bit, though. This film is just an insightful look into the final days of a crumbling empire (a fascinating broad topic, made more fascinating due to which empire is being focused on). The film was designed to illicit all kinds of reactions, and succeeds. It is as objective as best it can be, and is really quite sensible with how things are handled. It's also just an excellently crafted picture, and the mise-en-scene is top notch.
Definitely give this a watch.