THE MOVIE: Stitching together various accounts about the final 10 days of Adolf Hitler’s life inside a subterranean Berlin bunker—including Traudl Junge’s Until the Final Hour—director Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Downfall is a claustrophobically intimate look at the 56-year-old German leader during the vulnerable, desperate lunacy of his last days alive. Told from the point of view of his secretary, the aforementioned Junge (Alexandra Maria Lara), Downfall approaches the unspeakable—humanizing one of the most universally derided mass murders in modern history. That it succeeds while never backing off the undeniable truths of the Third Reich’s reign is a marvel of cinematic tightrope walking.
Credit actor Bruno Ganz for finding the weak inside a fearsome charisma with his Hitler portrayal. The German-speaking Swiss has spent most of his career letting his Peter Lorre eyes hang like moist broken promises in his lined faced, and that beaten-dog weakness looks like a cockatoo at a cocktail party in Hitler’s clothing. Ganz’s provocative inhabitation of the stooped posture, clipped gestures, and erratic vocal mannerisms everyone knows from newsreels turns this Hitler into an even more unfathomable creature, as if history’s crazed monster is easier to comprehend than a flesh and blood man doing the same. And as such, if Downfall looks to locate any blame for Hitler’s power, it is in the circle of advisers-cum-friends surrounding him in these last hours, standing in for the greater German public writ large. For come April 30, 1945, only a few people were left surrounding him, but a decade previous their numbers were legion.
THE DISC: For such a critically well-received foreign-language movie, you’d expect a few more bells and whistles with this thing. It includes the usual director commentary, cast and crew interviews, and making-of featurette—in which we learn, surprise, the director was adamant about the realism of this bunker—but little in the way of illuminating details. Most members of the predominantly German cast admit to reservations about portraying, say, Joseph Goebbels, and Hirschbiegel’s English commentary offers clarifying details to players involved that the movie tends to gloss over. But given how Downfall raised eyebrows in reviews in Germany and across Europe, it’s surprising the DVD doesn’t address its still-volatile subject as written in the positive and negative ink it’s generated since debuting.