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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Downfall (Der Untergang) (2004)

"The war is lost. But if you think that I'll leave Berlin for that, you are sadly mistaken. I'd prefer to put a bullet in my head."
- Adolf Hitler (Bruno Ganz)

Review By: Kevin Clemons   
Published: February 16, 2006

Stars: Bruno Ganz, Alexandra Maria Lara, Corinna Harfouch, Ulrich Matthes, Juliane Köhler, Heino Ferch
Other Stars: Thomas Krestchman, Ulrich Noethen
Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, disturbing images and some nudity.Runtime: 156 min
Run Time: 02h:34m:41s
Release Date: August 02, 2005
UPC: 043396115453
Genre: foreign


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A A+A-A- B+

DVD Review

Much has been made of the portrayal of Adolph Hitler in Oliver Hirschbiegel's powerful Downfall, a film that takes an unflinching look at the final days of a man few knew personally. The film has drawn both criticism and acclaim for its look at the German leader as Berlin fell under the constant barrage of Allied artillery. There is no denying that Hirschbiegel's film does a terrific job of crafting Hitler as a man with flashes of paranoia and megalomania, showcasing the slow breakdown of his military structure and his psyche.

As the action opens we are introduced to Traudl Junge (Lara), a young woman who, along with several other potential secretaries, is escorted to Hitler's secret bunker in the middle of the night in late 1942. After an effective sequence in which Hitler (Ganz) presents almost a grandfatherly interaction with these women, he chooses Junge, and suddenly we are in the midst of the fall of the Third Reich in April of 1945.

As the Russian artillery falls on Berlin, Hitler is faced with the concept of defeat as even his closest advisors are leaving, including Himmler (Noethen), who has begun to contact the Allies in an attempt to make peace. Refusing to surrender and continually ordering the movement of troops who are no longer in any shape to fight, Hitler eventually spirals into further depths. All of this is intercut with stunning sequences showing the last days of the Third Reich above ground, where children attempt to fight off the advancing Allied forces while some members of the Nazi party search for deserters to hang as their one last show of faith for the Führer.

Though it may seem that Downfall is a war movie, categorizing it as such is a disservice. It is more a study of fanaticism, power, and faith, and how they can drive a man mad. Hirschbiegel keeps up a fast pace that helps to build tension as the film progresses towards its inevitable conclusion. The production design and cinematography are incredible, presenting the viewer with an intimacy while also pushing the claustrophobia of the bunker during Hitler's final days.

The script also shows a balance of emotion, jumping between the happenings in the bunker and those outside, including the efforts of a doctor (Berkel) who tries in vain to save the numerous civilians perishing in the hospitals of the bombed-out city. Compare this to the film's most chilling and emotionally harrowing moment in which Magda Goebbels (Harfouch) one by one feeds her children the cyanide pill that will end their lives. Each moment showcases the raw emotion that can be found throughout Downfall, for better or worse.

Paramount to all of this is the acting, with Swiss actor Bruno Ganz delivering a performance that electrifies the screen at one moment and seems steeped in emotion and subtly in the very next. The performance works well despite public perception; we expect to see Hitler as a larger than life villain, and yet Ganz offers a man who is not overly evil. Instead, there are moments where Ganz wonderfully shifts between madness and sentiment. His performance, and the film for that matter, says as much about the life of Hitler as it does about human nature.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Downfall is a film of steely gray and blue tones and the representation of the atmospheric tone is done very well in the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Sharpness and detail are also good, with no grain or noticeable edge enhancement, and there's no bleeding evident.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The German Dolby Digital 5.1 mix was surprisingly more active than I expected it to be. The film represents the battle sequences well with the booming bass of approaching tanks as well as several effective moments in which the split surround speakers get a lot of work with ambient sounds. A very solid mix.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Oliver Hirschbiegel
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: Though a much more elaborate German edition of Downfall is available in other regions, the extra material featured here, while slim, is filled with fascinating insights into the making of the film.

First is an amazing commentary track by director Oliver Hirschbiegel in which the director recounts the painstaking measures undertaken to make the film as historically accurate as possible. There are discussions of the source material and even why key events, including Hitler and Braun's suicides, happen off camera—basically because there is no historical documentation as to how it actually happened.

The making-of piece goes beyond being simply a promotional piece. Running nearly an hour, we are treated to on-set interviews (also available via their own separate menu) as well as both behind-the-scenes and newsreel footage. Much of the documentary deals with the production while other moments showcase the cast and crew talking about the impact of the film, and how the subject matter would be handled.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

Downfall works on every level throughout. While emotionally draining, the film takes us into the mind of Adolph Hitler, and, while emotionally harrowing, presents questions and provides much discussion about its topics after the credits have rolled. This movie is absolutely fascinating and terrific. Highly recommended.

 


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