Movie Review: One miscalculation leads to the deaths of many in the gripping ‘13 MINUTES’

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Jared McMillan // Film Critic

13 MINUTES
Rated R, 114 minutes.
Director:
Cast: Christian Friedel, Katharina Schüttler, Burghart KlaußnerDavid ZimmerschiedJohann von BülowFelix Eitner and Udo Schenk

Georg Elser almost stopped World War II before it ever got started. In Munich 1939, Hitler gave something of a town hall speech, all the while a ticking bomb beneath his feet, hidden in the podium’s platform. A bomb built by German-born Elser (Christian Friedel), its meticulous set-up the opening credits sequence of 13 MINUTES.

Of course, it doesn’t work, as Hitler left 13 minutes earlier than Elser’s calculations. Not only did the assassination fail, but he also killed 8 people, including a few innocent citizens working the event. Georg is captured at the train as he is about to flee, where the Nazi officers find his schematics and take him in.

From this point forward, the film becomes a mix of flashbacks and Elser’s interrogation by Nazi officials Nebe (Burghart Klaubner) and Muller (Johann von Bulow). Director Oliver Hirschbiegel, who helmed the fantastic DOWNFALL, creates two different sides of Elser’s life, his past and its correlation to the present. As Nebe uses interrogation/torture to break a defiant Elser, the viewer is taken back to happier times at first.

Elser was a musician and pacifist before the rise of Nazi party. He falls for a married woman named Elsa (Katharina Schuttler), and their relationship, while pure, is constantly mired by the oppression of her abusive husband. Her love subtly changes Georg as he feels helpless in her hesitation to get divorced. This helplessness is magnified by the fact that his town is overrun with Nazi propaganda, buying into the message of Hitler as good for Germany.

Christian Friedel is Georg Elser in ’13 MINUTES.’ Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

13 MINUTES isn’t necessarily a film about World War II, but rather how battle, whether overt or personal, can change humanity. Elser’s convictions changed because what is right is constant in his eyes. Once that logic is skewed by the events growing around him, he sees that Germany will be ruined by Hitler and must protect his home. Conversely, his conviction leading him to act alone creates a paranoia in Hitler as they won’t accept Elser’s confession and proof. He becomes a symbol of independent thought, which is detrimental to a regime built on a collective manipulation.

There is never a lull in the storytelling, even with the sudden jolt to Elser’s past. Friedel is more than capable in Elser’s shoes, creating an almost hero that didn’t care about heroics. There is a full belief from the viewer to the character as he is given depth while being broken down.

Hirschbiegel makes sure to frame the scenes with different tints and effective lighting to elicit a relation to Elser. For example, there is a shot where he is in a movie theater in town, watching news reels before a show. He looks around to realize he is surrounded by Nazis, smiling at the sight of panzers as he looks on in disgust.

13 MINUTES makes sure to give Elser the respect his story deserved. It’s not a great movie, as there are some hiccups that happen in the narrative, But, it is constantly fascinating, and does its job to make you wonder what would have happened if he were successful.

Grade: B

13 MINUTES is now playing in limited release.
Dallas: Angelika Film Center in Dallas

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.