Downfall (Der Untergang) Reviews
Downfall (or Der Untergang in Germany) is focused on the fall of Adolf Hitler; in the closing days of World War Two the Russians are advancing into Berlin and the Fuhrer (played by Bruno Ganz), along with his most esteemed generals and closest allies in the Reichstag's secret underground bunker are struggling to cope with countless losses and setbacks as a result of the advancing allied forces. Tensions gradually build within the Reich at the prospect of losing the war and impending doom and with this etched into their minds, the last Nazi officials realise that they must act to avoid capture or in other cases preserve the well-being of the German people in the midst of catastrophe. The story unfolds from a variety of perspectives, often flashing between different members of the Reich as they witness numerous events that unfolded in the Battle for Berlin. But the main narrative voice in Downfall is that of Traudl Junge (Alexandra Maria Lara), one of Hitler's main secretaries who stays in the bunker, only to avoid the dangers of the outside world. From her viewpoint we see a much more emotional side of Hitler that no film has ever covered before; even though he was a truly despicable character (which is emphasised many times with his pride for murdering the Jews of Europe, scorched Earth policy and general disdain for his own people) he was still a human being who suffered and broke down as many of us sometimes do under loss and pressure. Downfall also deals with other themes in the war genre; the destruction of Berlin by the Russian Army gives way to many atrocities, making the audience feel sympathy for the people of Germany at that dark time, even the infamous Hitler's Youth comes to a realisation that they put their trust in the wrong leader as they themselves are involved in the fighting. The greatest strength of Downfall's plot is that it sets itself apart from practically every other war film out there; it concentrates heavily on the characters and their struggles, putting across a rather depressing tone from Hitler's viewpoint, whilst also emphasising that the war had just as great an impact on the citizens of the Nazi Regime than it did on those directly involved.
There are many actors playing a role in Downfall, all of whom add to the film's authenticity and all of whom deliver brilliant performances all around. At the centre is Bruno Ganz as Hitler, a fantastic performance which is perhaps the most realistic and compelling portrayal of the dictator yet seen in a film. Ganz spent four months studying to play the role to the best of his ability and it really shows; the dictator's selfish nature and inability to lead a country is shown elegantly, whether he is insulting and blaming his generals for his losses or being too arrogant in believing that his operations will succeed without any difficulty. By the end of the film, you understand fully why Hitler fell, both as a leader and as a dictator. Hitler's main generals, particularly his closest generals (played by the likes of Thomas Kretschmann, Heino Ferch and Ulrich Noethen) are also handled brilliantly; you can feel their nerves shredding when facing their leader with the news of another defeat with sweat in their hair and lumps in their throats. Then there are those who turn a blind eye to Hitler's evil and will follow him to the end; Juliane Kohler as Hitler's wife Eva Braun is almost completely ignorant of the losses that take place and often pretends that the danger doesn't exist at all, highlighting her naive devotion to the Fuhrer. Similarly, Ulrich Matthes and Corinna Harfouch as Joseph and Magda Goebbells are just as evil as Hitler in that they outright refuse to believe that the Nazi regime will fall; these performances further emphasise just how ruthless and sadistic the Third Reich was. Finally there exists the characters that still possess their innocence in a place riddled with death and destruction; Alexandra Maria Lara puts in a great performance as Traudl Junge; she remains calm and professional to avoid provoking Hitler's wrath while also avoiding the dangers of the besieged Berlin; in a sense, she represents the mind-set of the German people as a whole who were tricked into believing that Hitler would bring an era of peace and prosperity at the time. Likewise the young Peter Kranz (Donevan Gunia) along with his fellow peers believes that he is doing his country proud by serving in Hitler's Youth, but in reality he is serving a monster and has clearly been desensitised by his experiences in direct combat. The way Downfall handles and juggles so many characters at once is simply astounding; every character has ample screen time and their arcs all come to an end in one way or another. It all adds up to an excellent cast that can rival that of big Hollywood blockbusters.
Downfall is not only one of the best World War Two films but also one of the best foreign films ever made. It's one of the few films that can bring fresh perspective and humanity to a truly evil individual while also giving plenty of attention to those around him.