Downfall is loosely based on the documentary Blindspot: Hitler’s Secretary which is the story of a young woman who joined Hitler’s inner office as a secretary for the Führer at the peak of the Third Reich. Downfall is centered around the last weeks of the battle for Berlin. The movie, grounded in history and the stark realities of war, has many surreal moments: frank discussions of the best way to commit suicide, Eva Braun’s desperate attempts to remain happy, and a fanatical mother poisoning her children so they are spared a future with no national socialism. For me, it vividly displayed the bewilderment so many generals and officials felt as the Third Reich collapsed. Hitler and the German war machine had defeated dozens of nations, crushing everything in its path. It had forged an empire from the Antlantic seaboard to deep inside Russia, from North Africa to Norway. But during the final weeks, it was reduced to a paltry force bolstered by old men and young boys that could not even defend one city. On top of this Hitler’s inner circle had to cope with the unraveling of their hero who had pulled Germany out of a economical disaster, rebuilt armies right in the face of the international community, championed the expansion of the Fatherland, and had led them through glorious years of victory and dominance. But then he was reduced to an irrational and quivering shell of a man. Even I was thinking at times, “How could it have come to this? How could something so powerful be so completely broken?”
Bruno Ganz is superb as Hitler. It’s harder for me to gauge the effectiveness of an actor when he’s speaking another language, but I could definitely tell Ganz was giving it his all. In the final weeks of his life, Hitler was an unstable and emotional wreck, aging rapidly and succumbing to Parkinson’s. Ganz had plenty of material with which to work: Hitler’s fits of rage, moments of defeated lucidity, and ultimate slip into suicidal despair. The other actors also did a fine job, but Ganz as Hitler dominates the film so completely it’s hard to remember the other characters (except for the Skeletor-look-alike Joseph Goebbels). This is the first movie I’ve seen that focused on Hitler, and it is an interesting portrayal. Hitler had two different personalities. In private, he was warm, pleasant, and almost grandfatherly. In public or as the Führer, he was violent, brutal, and harsh. During the movie, there are times I began to almost feel some sympathy for Hitler as he is bewildered by the ineffectiveness of his armies, shaking from Parkinson’s, and emptied by defeat; but, then, he says something vicious, reminding me he was one of the most evil men to walk this earth.
Overall, the movie was quite good, and I think World War II buffs would like it especially as it shows a different view of the chief antagonist. If you do watch this movie, watch it at a time when you don’t mind feeling depressed and shocked. There is plenty of violence and some nudity.