Georg Elser (Christian Friedel) is doomed from the very beginning of “13 Minutes.”
Picked up by a random patrol for behaving suspiciously, he’s in police custody when the homemade time bomb he planted in a Munich beer hall explodes on the evening of Nov. 6, 1939, 13 minutes after Adolf Hitler departs after unexpectedly cutting short a speech he was giving.
With drawings found on his person linking him to the device and the assassination plot the Nazis weren’t even aware of until the blast, Elser’s fate is sealed.
What follows in director Oliver Hirschbiegel’s gripping, somber German-language drama based on actual events is a detailed recreation of Elser’s interrogation and grotesque tortures by the Gestapo.
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Via flashbacks, we see the gradual evolution of a man of conscience who sees horror developing in his country and takes action to try to stop it.
Elser acts alone. That fact drives the agents of his torment, up to and including Hitler, mad with rage. How could a seemingly ordinary German working man, unaided, hatch such a plot and construct such a sophisticated bomb?
They use every sadistic method at their disposal to break him and force him to confess and implicate others. He defies them and insists on the justness of his act regardless of what is thrown at him.
The flashbacks, artfully threaded though “13 Minutes” by Hirschbiegel (who previously directed 2004’s “Downfall” about Hitler’s final days in his Berlin bunker), reveal how a seemingly happy-go-lucky lady’s man experiences a moral awakening as he perceives the society around him growing ever more toxic.
Over time, beginning in 1932, uniformed Hitler youth kids mock Elser and his churchgoing family, swastika banners proliferate on his village’s streets as the years go by, a friend is dragged off to a concentration camp by brownshirted thugs.
The early scenes are sunny but the film’s color palette darkens as the years pass.
As Elser, Friedel is very relatable. The character is certainly no saint, being involved in an affair with a married woman (Katharina Schüttler) at the same time he’s developing his plot. But he’s very careful to keep her in the dark about his activities to shield her from possible retribution if he’s found out.
Freidel illuminates the inner struggle Elser goes through as, buttressed by his conscience and his Catholic faith, he finds within himself a strength of character and brave defiance that defines him as a hero in the truest sense of the word.
☆☆☆☆ stars our of 5
Cast: Christian Friedel, Katharina Schüttler, Burghart Klaussner and Johann von Bulow.
Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel
Running time: 1:50
Rated: R for disturbing violence and some sexuality. In German, with English subtitles.