Downfall DVD Review - www.impulsegamer.com -

Feature 9.0
Video 8.0
Audio 8.0
Special Features   N/A
Audio 8.5
Distributor: Hopscotch
Running Time: 139
Classification:
 MA15+
Reviewer: Simon Black

8.5


Downfall (2004)

By the beginning of 1945 it was apparent that Germany’s defeat in World War II was assured.  Assailed by Stalin’s monumental Russian forces to the East and with the Allies steadily encroaching from the West, the only questions remaining were when the German high command would capitulate, and whether Berlin would fall to the Reds or the Allies. 

Hitler, in keeping with the ‘all or nothing’ ethos which had proven the decisive factor of his life, had no intentions of surrendering to either side.  Instead he ordered the ‘Volksturm’ – a pitiful force consisting of poorly-armed old men and cherry-cheeked adolescents –to join the remnants of his tattered armies in defending the Fatherland at all costs. 

In a war which had already cost tens of millions of lives, Hitler’s decision to send Germany’s remaining menfolk to their slaughter resulted in hundreds of thousands more needless deaths, and bought his ‘Thousand Year Reich’ a few more days at best.  By late April 1945, with Russian forces just minutes away from his concrete bunker underneath the Reich Chancellery, Hitler wed his long time mistress Eva Braun, dictated his vitriol-filled political testament, then ended his own life with a cyanide capsule and a bullet to the head. 

The highly-acclaimed German production Downfall, which several critics touted as one of the best war movies ever made, details the final desperate fortnight of Hitler’s life.  Eking out a mole-like existence in the Führerbunker, under constant bombardment from Russian artillery and betrayed by almost all his closest associates including SS Chief Heinrich Himmler and his deputy Hermann Goering, Hitler spent his final days railing at his Generals, poring over maps, directing the movements of armies that existed only on paper (or in his own head) and desperately trying to convince himself that a late victory was, by some miracle, possible. 

Bruno Ganz spent several months studying the speech patterns and mannerisms of Adolf Hitler, and the end result is one of the most chillingly realistic depictions ever to grace the screen, if that’s the right word.  The likenesses and costumes, for the record, aren’t a patch on those of, say, Valkyrie – the actor portraying the diminutive Goebbels is about six feet tall, and Juliane Köhler bears a closer resemblance to Toni Collette than Eva Braun – but as an emotional record and historical testament Downfall is near unparalleled. 

Ganz is simply mesmerising as the doomed dictator.  His Hitler shakes and tremors, racked by constant spasms affecting the left side of his body and spewing venom and spittle in equal quantities whenever he receives unwelcome news, which is often.  He aptly captures the charisma which so ensnared the German mass consciousness of the day and allowed millions to go willingly to their deaths, though by April 1945 even the Führer’s unshakeable belief in his own destiny had crumbled, and he was a thoroughly broken and defeated man.

Scenes depicting the German defence of Berlin are heartrending in their poignancy, as when helpless members of the Hitler Youth don comically oversized helmets and march off bravely to face tank brigades and a sea of Red army soldiers, though thankfully we are spared depictions of the worst of the Russian excesses upon taking the city. 

Downfall is a powerful, challenging and unforgettable film.  Far from humanising the Nazi leader it presents him for what he was; a doomed, self-deluding mass murderer intent on conquering Europe or destroying it.  It’s an intensely visceral viewing experience, but a necessary one, and a film that represents one of the great triumphs of 21st century German cinema. 

Technical Specs

The 16:9 widescreen transfer is defect and artefact free, and both the 5.1 and 2.0 German audio options are faultless affairs also, with plenty of directionality on the immersive surround soundtrack.

There are no special features, and the only subtitles on offer are English.  The film is also bookended, incidentally, with real-life interview footage from Hitler’s secretary Trudl Junge.  Junge was in her early twenties at the time of World War II and later in life spoke with increasing frequency about her time spent in Hitler’s employ.  The inclusion of her typically contrite sentiments here add an extra layer of authenticity and justification for the project, and it is fascinating to see the way in which she justifies her wilful ignorance of some of the horrors of the Nazi regime. 






 
 



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