13 Minutes

13 Minutes

2017, R, 114 min. Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel. Starring Christian Friedel, Katharina Schüttler, Burghart Klaußner, Johann von Bülow, Felix Eitner, Rüdiger Klink, Simon Licht.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., July 28, 2017

If you were wondering what all-British Dunkirk was about thanks to the dismal Texas educational system, you’ll be equally, if not exactly pleasantly surprised by 13 Minutes, another side note to the World War II era that even I hadn’t heard about. It’s the story of Georg Elser (Friedel), an apolitical German carpenter who, on Nov. 8, 1939, single-handedly attempted to assassinate Adolf Hitler by blowing up the hall in which der Führer would soon be giving a speech. The plot obviously failed, and Elser was immediately caught trying to cross over into Switzerland. Unwisely, his pockets were still laden with bomb parts and the schematics of the ruined building. Eight people were killed in the blast, but Hitler survived to die another day at the hands of the Inglourious Basterds and, more to the point, director Hirschbiegel’s 2004 film Downfall, from whence a million Hitler memes were born.

The latter is the better of Hirschbiegel’s Nazi-related output to date; you simply cannot top Bruno Ganz’s performance as the Charles Chaplin-Hater-in-Chief. Still, 13 Minutes – the title refers to the mistiming of the explosion, Hitler having already exited the building – is an engrossing if not altogether thrilling examination of this often overlooked historical event.

Even here, Elser is something of an enigma. Once in the hands of the SS, they absolutely, positively will not allow themselves to believe that the diminutive man in their custody planned and carried out the assassination attempt all by himself. One man very nearly took out the feared leader all by his lonesome? Preposterous, his interrogators-cum-torturers cry. That such a thing could actually happen baffles them and insults their Aryan pride. One of those involved in prodding Elser for relevant details is Nazi Arthur Nebe (Klaußner), who was himself executed for taking part in yet another plot to kill Hitler in 1944.

Elser’s pastoral life prior to World War II is seen in flashbacks throughout 13 Minutes. As played by Friedel, he’s something of a scoundrel, a wry half-smile tugging up the corner of his mouth every time he spies a pretty young thing, or a pretty married woman. A Catholic pacifist (when he’s not working on clocks or playing his accordion), he came to discern the outsized malignancy inherent to Hitler seemingly before anyone else and promptly set about to put a stop to it. He failed and was sent to Dachau where he was executed mere days before the Allies liberated the concentration camp. 13 Minutes, which was released in Germany two years ago, is an earnest examination of personal conscience and the frequent necessity of the individual to monkey wrench the state. Or at least to try.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Oliver Hirschbiegel Films
The simplification and beatification of Diana, Princess of Wales, is perpetuated in this movie.

Louis Black, Nov. 22, 2013

The Invasion
This fourth film telling of Invasion of the Body Snatchers appears to be made by pod people themselves.

Marc Savlov, Aug. 24, 2007

More by Marc Savlov
The Twentieth Century
Suitably bonkers Canadian surrealist comedy rewrites history

Nov. 27, 2020

Jiu Jitsu
No jiu jitsu, and not enough Nic Cage in this Predator rip-off

Nov. 20, 2020


13 Minutes, Oliver Hirschbiegel, Christian Friedel, Katharina Schüttler, Burghart Klaußner, Johann von Bülow, Felix Eitner, Rüdiger Klink, Simon Licht

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle