Saturday, April 27, 2013

Max Manus (2008)

Director: Joachim Rønning                            Writer: Thomas Nordseth-Tiller
Film Score: Trond Bjerknes                           Cinematography: Geir Hartly Andreassen
Starring: Aksel Hennie, Agnes Kittelsen, Nicolai Cleve Broch and Ken Duken

Based on a true story, Max Manus is a film of the Norwegian resistance movement during World War II. The film itself is Norwegian, which is a big plus. Unlike Hollywood films about the same subject like Edge of Darkness or The Heroes of Telemark, there is a genuine undercurrent of patriotism that is very palpable throughout. Manus began the war volunteering to help Finland against Stalinist Russia, and back home naturally fell into the resistance. But the inexperience in that kind of war, coupled with a youthful carelessness resulted in his being caught by the Nazis. Trapped in his apartment, he did the only thing he could think of and jumped through the window two floors up, landing him in the hospital instead of a concentration camp.

Aksel Hennie at first doesn’t seem to fit the part, incredibly young and seemingly incapable of the heroic feats for which he is portraying. But he makes it work. Naturally he escapes from the hospital and is whisked to England, participating in an independent commando unit attached to the British army that is periodically dropped into Norway to conduct sabotage. Nicolai Cleve Broch is his best friend in the endeavor, but he is a writer, a propagandist with no experience as a soldier. Hennie takes him under his wing, vowing to protect him and the two proceed with their missions in Olso. While in Stockholm between missions, Broch is seeing Agnes Kittelsen, a woman who is separated from her husband and who is helping with the resistance. Ken Duken plays the Nazi officer who is assigned to Oslo and attempting to weed out the underground resistance.

There’s nothing spectacular in the film, certainly nothing that hasn’t been done before. And that is, of course, one of the pitfalls in telling a true story. Whether it is in Norway, or France, or Germany itself, stories of the resistance movement follow a similar arc, initial success followed by discovery, either through mistakes from within or good detective work from outside. But this film has a very different, and somewhat unexpected, ending that deals with the very real predicament of the returning soldier and still manages to be upbeat. It’s a realistic ending, and the film is all the better for it.

I have no doubt, however, that the film was very popular in Norway. The name Max Manus, being equated with something like Sergeant York or Audie Murphy in the United States, needed nothing else in the title for Norwegian audiences. But in the world market it was give the subtitle "Man of War." For those who appreciate good war films, this is a must see. For those more ambivalent, not so much. And there is also a dubbed version available for those who dislike subtitles. Max Manus is a very good World War II film and a necessary addition to an already heavily cinematic period in world history.

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