Evil is most fearsome when it is encompassed in a person, and few persons throughout history have encompassed evil as well as Adolf Hitler. It is hard for most people to even conceive of someone like Hitler, but imagine trying to play him in a movie. When it comes to tyrants, most films go overboard — the tyrant either comes off as a caricatured villian with the requisite sinister laugh, or he is made to look too “human,” with his terrible actions beyond his control.
Downfall avoids both extremes, and in doing so makes for one of the scariest and compelling World War II films ever made. Chronicling the last days of Hitler’s regime in Berlin, the story is largely based on the testimony of Hitler’s secretary Traudl Junge. That the film is in German (with English subtitles, of course) helps the overall feel, and the performance of Bruno Ganz as “Der Führer” is both riveting and revulsive. You may recognize Ganz from his role as Staupitz in the 2003 film Luther. In Downfall, you will only recognize him as Hitler.
This film is not for children, and it is certainly not for the faint of heart. The maniacal behaviors of Hitler and his confidants (most notably the Goebbels) are vivid reminders of the evil that can exist within the human heart, as if we really needed such a reminder today.
My rating: 8 out of 10