This protracted but quite illuminating account of Hitler's final days is difficult to watch at times, but Oliver Hirschbiegel makes the sound and fury of a cold-blooded man indelible.
Downfall (Der Untergang), in German with English subtitles, follows Hitler and his Nazi commanders underground in the last week and a half of the Third Reich with much depth. The Fuhrer is even seen briefly acting quite benevolently to women and children when not filled with fear and lathering loathesomeness.
There are plenty of people around the man who brought on genocidal madness besides Eva Braun, his newly wedded wife in Berlin April 1945. Eva (Juliane Kohler) doesn't seem to be aware of what's happening outside of the heavily fortified bunker she's living in and doesn't like her husband's food preferences nor his dog Blondi, though she'll take him for a walk.
Hirschbiegel works diligently with producer/scenarist Bernd Eichinger from Traudl Junge's memoirs whose voice-over bookends the film. Traudl is adroitly acted with naivety by Alexandra Maria Lara who initially becomes Hitler's secretary in 1942. When her leader becomes a menacing figure who's mentally unstable she remained dutiful and subservient.
How longtime Swiss actor Bruno Ganz assays Hitler with quicksilver verve when it comes to emotional warmth and brutality is a testiment to a well-schooled, impassioned talent.
Under the gripping Ganz are those like Ulrich Noethen, Heino Ferch, and Ulrich Matthes as Himmler, Speer, and Goebbels, respectively, in top form as Hitler's cruel cronies. They have their agenda when it comes to evacuating Berlin and what they'll to do to get out alive. Hitler would eventually have the bodies of Eva and him burned so the surging Russian forces couldn't display them.
Some scenes are filmed with a destructive, visceral power with no dialogue and music setting the mood. The nationalistic pride that developed from Hitler's cogent leadership (using Berlin like a big gameboard with magnificient white models) is presented with an unsettling authenticity.
Downfall reaches a deep wrenching moment as the stately Mrs. Goebbels (Corinna Harfouch) poisons her six children with cyanide capsules with ease so they wouldn't have to experience a world without Hitler's tenets. Germany's entry for Best Foreign Language Film is dense with historical insight at the finish, bloody and sometimes bawdy, but leaves a deep impact, probably even with some scholars.