4 stars
What drives a pacifist to become a killer? This question is raised in the extremely intense film 13 Minutes by the German director of Downfall, Oliver Hirschbiegel.
The film re-enacts a virtually unknown piece of German history (at least outside of Germany) which took place in the early days of World War II and it’s particularly interesting when one considers the implications this event could have had on the future of Germany and the rest of the world… had it been successful, for on November 8th 1939, an assassination attempt was made on the life of Adolf Hitler by one Georg Elser!

Elser (Christian Friedel – The White Ribbon / Amour Fou) was a carpenter and competent musician from the south-western region of Bavaria known as Swabia. As a young man he spends an idyllic life around Lake Constance, perfecting his skills at a range of jobs, playing music and dating a number of women, until his mother calls him home to take over the reins of the family timber business, as his father’s alcoholism is destroying it. The arrival of National Socialism in the region changes the once peaceful environment into a hot-bed of political dissent and some of the locals end up pitted against each other when the fascist ideologies of Nazism start to take over.

A few of Elser’s childhood friends join the Communist Party but “Georgie” remains uncommitted to either side as he firmly believes that, “Violence never did any good to anybody”. However, as Swastika images begin to appear in the local shops and on banners hanging from various buildings, Elser is distressed by the changes, particularly when a local woman is made to wear a placard around her neck for the ‘crime’ of being married to a Jew. His personal life is also somewhat distressed because he has begun an affair with a married woman, Elsa (Katharina Schüttler – Generation War / Oh Boy), adding to the danger and confusion of his life.

Eventually though, unable to accept the changes going on around him and presciently seeing Europe’s bleak future, Elser sets out to make things right by assassinating the man responsible for these negative events and he builds a bomb, setting the timer to go off in the middle of Hitler’s annual speech at the Bürgerbräukeller in Munich on 8 November, 1939. When he is arrested at the Swiss border, the police and the Gestapo refuse to believe that has acted on his own and they set out to extract a confession, regardless of the truth.

All of this is played out in flashback, making 13 Minutes a fascinating, at times gruesome, portrayal of an event which is finally being revealed to a global audience. The performances are simply riveting and the production design and costumes are extremely authentic, down to their real evidence of wear and tear. The authenticity of the period has been backed-up by the contribution of Professor Dr. Peter Steinbach, the Director of the Memorial of the German Resistance, who was brought in as the historical advisor and, it shows. It’s an intriguing film that asks, ‘What if…?’ When you discover how close Elser came to changing world history and possibly saving the lives of millions, you have to confront the difficult question of when does the end justify the means?


Previewed at Sony Pictures Theatrette, Sydney, on 14 July, 2015

Christian Friedel
Katharina Schüttler
Burghart Klaussner
Johan von Bulöw

Oliver Hirschbiegel

Fred Breinersdorfer

Germany (subtitles)


114 minutes

July 23, 2015
13 Minutes (2015) on IMDb
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