13 Minutes

Oct 9, 2017

Nazis are almost always fascinating.

13 Minutes

Grade: C+

Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel (Downfall)

Screenplay: Leonie-Claire Breinersdorfer (The Man from Beijing), Fred Breinersdorfer (Sophie Scholl)

Cast: Christian Friedel (White Ribbon), Katharina Schuttier (Free Fall)

Rating: R

Runtime: 1 hr 54 min

by John DeSando

“If humanity isn't free, everything dies with it.” Georg Elser (Christian Friedel)

I love Nazi-related films: those uniforms, the certainty of their mission, and their embodiment of evil. The docudrama 13 Minutes is more a love story than a carefully-historical account of Georg Elser’s failed attempt to assassinate Hitler in 1939. Successfully paralleling the complexity of Elser’s love for a married woman, Elsa (Katharina Schuttier), director Oliver Hirschbiegel shows the eccentric character of Elser’s motives for the attempt and the Nazis' uncertainty about his ideals.

The bulk of the docudrama is Elser’s Nazi interrogation, especially by the ambivalent Arthur Nebe (Burghart Klaußner), whose sympathies emerge only later in the story. Other Nazis are central casting: handsome, spiffy, focused, and scary. Throughout, the filmmakers emphasize Elser’s dogged honesty and willingness to be  honest in the face of threats against Elsa.

Although the love affair with her occupies the major part of the film, including the oafish drunken husband, Erich (Rudiger Klink), the emphasis on interrogation remains at times repetitive and inconsequential, even in the face of Hitler’s demand to know who supported Elser’s attempt. The film loses power as it becomes clear he devised the plot on his own even with the Nazis' brutal attempts to extract his accomplices’ names.

As one interrogator asks, how could “an ethnic German hate the Fuhrer so much?”--a hint of today's dictatorial regimes.

Speaking of which, a sequence after drug inducement seems completely extraneous give the re-hashed and weak images. In essence, 13 Minutes is uncertain  which way to go: torture or love story. In the end it's a weak rendition of both.

“Hitler is war — and if he goes, there will be peace.” Interrogator

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at