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The best of the bunker genre
on 6 May 2007
Downfall is easily the best of that subgenre of Bunker movies (see also Messrs Guinness, Hopkins and Finlay), but it still doesn't quite work as well as it should. There are fine performances all round from the strong cast (particularly Juliane Kohler's Eva Braun, part mother hen, part best friend, part party girl, part loyal frau), a good script and strong direction, but something always seemed to be missing.
Part of the problem is the way it tones down the material a lot. Of course, this was an extremely risky picture and it's understandable that some characters are whitewashed (such as the 'good' doctor whose real role was much more ambiguous) in an effort to give the audience some human focus to identify with. But the sheer savagery of the fall of Berlin was not really there: the death squads killing civilians were shown in passing (albeit not nearly as prominently as they were in reality), but the understandable barbarity of the Russian troops was very much glossed over (Anthony Beevor's Berlin - The Downfall 1945 - sadly not one of the sources for the film despite the title - gives an excellent account of this). An artistic case can be made for this - the film does make clear that, mad as Hitler and his cohorts were, the civilian population were indeed equally responsible and by focusing on the German characters this is made implicit - but by downplaying the Russians so much, it reduces the almost Biblical scale of sheer horror that they finally reaped. Of course, whether such a film would have been as successful is debatable, and it could have been open to cries of foul for blackening the Russians along with the Nazis, but the film veers too much to good taste in a subject matter where good taste and delicate sensibilities had no place. That's why ultimately it's a fine film with a few great moments rather than a truly great one.