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Picks and Pans Review: Downfall

updated 03/07/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/07/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST

Bruno Ganz, Alexandra Maria Lara
CRITIC'S CHOICE

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You've seen them in movies, miniseries and ad nauseam on the History Channel, but never before have Adolf Hitler's final days seemed so real or chilling as in this German film. Downfall, directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel (Das Experiment) with an eye for the small, telling detail, shows the dictator coming unglued while confined to a bunker beneath the Chancellery in Berlin in 1945.

An Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Film, Downfall is based on two books—by a historian and by Hitler's secretary—that meticulously chronicled the end of the Third Reich. As Russian troops encircle Berlin, a delusional, tantrum-throwing Hitler (Ganz, who's scarily perfect) forbids surrender. His top aides, in between drinking binges, plot against him or plan their own suicides. Meanwhile, secretaries and Hitler's mistress Eva Braun sneak outside for smoking breaks. Though long (2 hours, 28 minutes), Downfall keeps you riveted. (Not rated)

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