Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Alternate Best Actor 2004: Bruno Ganz in Downfall

Bruno Ganz did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Adolf Hitler in Downfall.

Downfall is an effective film that depicts the final days of the third Reich, even if it perhaps loses some of its momentum once Hitler exits the film.

The last time I reviewed Bruno Ganz was for his heart warming portrayal of an angel in Wings of Desire well Ganz is portraying a less positive figure this time in fact he playing one of the most monstrous men of history in Adolf Hitler. Hitler is a difficult role in that he is so often parodied that it is easy to be just a laughable caricature even if the intent is to be a serious portrayal. His mannerisms are just so well known and so often parodied that it is particularly easy to remind one of those parodies. Ganz from his first scene though shows that this is not going to be any typical portrayal of Adolf Hitler. The film opens with the arrival of some women to Hitler's compound in order for Hitler to find a new secretary. When he first arrives you almost expect a monster to emerge from the chambers, knowing exactly who Hitler, is, but that's not who comes out. No rather Ganz walks out as a man with some very poor posture, and probably some physical ailment that would eventually Parkinson's disease as well evidenced by the very natural shake Ganz gives to Hitler's forefingers on one hand in later scenes.

Ganz's physical manner as Hitler, is utterly convincing, and he makes us believe him as Hitler in at least the base sense, but that does not stop there with his introduction as he greets the candidates including his future secretary Traudl Junge (Alexandra Lara). Ganz does not portray him as the screaming lunatic we know, but actually as a fairly gentle older man as he greets each of the secretaries while asking them where they are from. After hearing that Traudl is from Munich Hitler invites her into his office to see how she types. Well dictating she suddenly stops leaving Hitler to tell her to do it again. Ganz does not yell, he does not sneer, not he gives the warmest of gestures like a loving father would ask her daughter just to simple try something again. It is a chilling scene because there is technically nothing chilling about it. Ganz portrays one of histories greatest monster's with such a genuine kindness in this scene that is actually disturbing. Ganz does not show this to be a psychopath hiding his true nature, or anything like that, no. Ganz shows that simply in certain company, just a normal technically unimportant situation, that Hitler could be a nice guy.

This is not some sort of false portrayal of Hitler, Hitler was an evil man, and the film does show him as such. The film, and Ganz simply never make it as simple as Hitler being a man without absolutely any humanity. We meet the Hitler were more use to soon enough when the film suddenly jumps in time near the end of the way as Hitler along with his personal staff have moved to his personal in Berlin as the Soviet army slowly begins to close in. Ganz is effective in just a single scene switch that he know shows that Hitler is a much more spent man both physically and mentally as the defeats have piled up over the few years. One of the earliest scenes is when Hitler is being told that Berlin is being bombed and all Hitler's reaction is that the bomb is merely convenient way to rebuild Berlin in his new vision. Ganz's madness that he exhibits in the role is a most unique sort in the role as Hitler is not just any mad man, he is a mad man who is a ruler of a country. Even when he is stating something so absurd, and horrible as this Ganz carries himself with a certain presence, and command. There is not hesitation, or even intensity in Ganz's voice, rather Ganz shows Hitler not as mad so to speak, but as a man with no barriers on his vision.

Ganz's performance is particularly interesting because even though he is portraying someone who almost seems to start rotting from the inside out as the it proceeds, there is something so magnetic about his performance as Hitler. This is absolutely needed for a portrayal of Hitler, because although he is obviously despicable, much of Hitler's power did come from his ability to persuade the populace of Germany to his vision. Ganz though does have a command in his performance and he conveys the needed power of personality in the man to be convincing that Hitler could have made it to the level of power that he achieved. It's there, and even though Ganz does disappear often during the film you never forgot about his existence not even after he's permanently gone. Ganz is able to make Hitler larger than life through his performance still, even though this film is all about technically revealing Hitler to be actually just a very small man in all reality, Ganz is able to strike the right balance giving a convincing illusion while revealing the truth.

As they are obviously losing Hitler becomes very much delusion about the whole affair thinking that the only reason they are not winning is because his men are not trying hard enough or they are simply are not following his orders. Ganz is very effective as he plays Hitler's reactions to every set back as though Hitler purposefully devolves to his persona as the dictator. Ganz is terrific in these scenes as he frankly goes full on Hitler in his vicious outbursts against every one and everything. Ganz gives them the right heated intensity as in the same way Hitler's speeches were, as he shows the most brutal side of Hitler in exact detail. Ganz is great as he shows the prejudices in Hitler quite cleverly as his performance becomes most violent whenever Hitler goes on about the background on one of his subordinates who are either failing to follow his orders, or simply failing to do the impossible. It is not just their current action he decries but as well whatever their lives are and in this hatred Ganz's rather artfully suggests exactly where the most extreme form of hatred comes from.

The progression of Hitler's story in the film is actually him is actually slowly losing his delusion that he will still win the war. Ganz is incredibly good at portraying a transition that is painfully naturally in its course. Throughout the film Ganz slowly reveals that the whole dictator side of the man is something that he just can't keep up as one set back after another forces him to face reality rather than his imagination of what should be happening. Ganz is surprisingly powerful, even though he is portraying Hitler, by revealing the man behind the vile creature. Ganz is exceptional in the scenes where some of his advisers admit to having lying to him, and there's no leader there just a small sad man who is quietly realizing exactly what he has sewn with his life. Ganz handles wonderfully well as Hitler does everything he can to keep his delusion, but you see the emotion slow reveal itself past his attempted manner of shielding it. One particularly strong moment is when he watches the Goebbels family sing for him (who are the only ones more delusion than Hitler) and Ganz portrays perfectly the feigning happiness of a doomed man.

The role of Hitler, as I said before, is a great challenge not to be a caricature, which Ganz avoid completely with his performance. The thing is though Ganz does not simply give us the Hitler you would know from watching the archival footage of the man either though. He goes about turning Hitler into a three dimensional individual. It is not that he makes Hitler sympathetic, that would be wholly impossible, and frankly a bit wrong to do. No, what Ganz achieves is something quite special in the role, since he never once holds back in any scene showing the evil in Hitler. We see that and we know what he is with Ganz's performance, what Ganz does so well though is that obviously with twenty four hours in a day it is unlikely that someone would be that way every second of the day. Ganz makes Hitler the genocidal murderer of millions in his fervent portrayal of the man's horrendous visions, but Ganz gives us a portrait of a man that is honest sadness of a man mistreated by his father, and of a husband genuinely capable of love. It is a fascinating and disturbing portrayal of the existence of humanity in one that was truly inhumane.


luke higham said...

One of the best performances that I've ever seen.

luke higham said...

Louis: Ratings & Thoughts on the rest of the cast.

luke higham said...

Louis: Lastly, your favourite Hitler Rant, as well as your favourite scene in the film.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Oh damn, did I bet on the wrong horse again?

mcofra7 said...

Is this one of your favorite performances? This has to be one of the longest reviews on here

luke higham said...

KoooK160: Don't worry. Carrey will still have a 5 & 2nd place at the very least in my opinion.

Michael McCarthy said...

I still think Carrey has a chance...but I'll be damned if this doesn't look like a winning review. I can't imagine Ganz will be lower than 2nd.

luke higham said...

Seen any new films yet, Louis.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

If Carrey doesn't get a 5, I'm just going to crawl into a ball and cry.

Anonymous said...

Louis, so is Adams your pick among the nominees for 2012? (And Doona Bae is still your personal choice?) Anyway, I really want to see Ganz and yours is a great review!

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

What other portrayals of Hitler have you seen, Louis? (and anyone else) I've only seen Robert Carlyle who was O.K. but nowhere near Ganz's level, and really want to see Noah Taylor.

Louis Morgan said...


Lara - 4(I liked her performance even if she was technically somewhat limited by the scope of her character. She was suppose to be somewhat naive, and never particularly judgmental about the regime. She was effective though in showing someone trying to make the most out of a situation where she frankly was a bit out of her element)

Matthes - 3.5(With those eyes he did not even need to say anything to make an impact. He gave an interesting purposefully one note performance, that contrasted well against Ganz's more emotional performance, by showing Goebbels's delusion to be utterly unshakable)

Harfouch - 4(She melds particularly well with Matthes as they both portray the two most insane and most devoted of all in the bunker. Her performance is very interesting in that she does not show Magda Goebbels as simply a loyal follower of a leader, but rather a rapid worshiper who cannot fathom losing her personal god)

Kohler - 4(She and Harfouch both did well distinguishing their performances even though they are technically somewhat similair in nature. Kohler is quite good in showing Braun's own delusion of happiness, but she's very good in bringing a subtle emotional desperation which always seems to be just under the skin)

Kretschmann - 3.5(He's usually good and that's the case here. I like how he kinda makes the illusion of a hero in his early scenes, but slowly reveals that really there is not really anything especially noble about Fegelein's particularly attempt to escape from Belin)

Berkel - 3.5(Berkel does a solid job of showing someone being a quietly passionate crusader of some sort of sanity in the insanity. He nicely never overplays his hand, and shows that even someone trying to do right would have to do it in a rather quiet fashion in such a terrible situation)

My favorite rant has to be of course the most famous rant. My favorite scene was probably when Hitler was saying goodbye to his staff.

Also I saw Boyhood.

mcofra7: I certainly liked him a lot.

Anonymous: Adams would be my choice of the nominees but Doona-Bae is my personal choice

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOScar: Mostly just supporting ones where they either don't make much of an impact or sometimes are just outright awful.

luke higham said...

Louis: Thoughts on Boyhood, with Ratings & Thoughts on Ellar Coltrane & Ethan Hawke.

Louis Morgan said...

I wasn't crazy about it to say the least. There was not anything particularly notable about the film for me other than the gimmick, and I do feel the praise for the film would be more muted if there wasn't the real aging. It was only okay as just a standard coming of age story, but a lot of things I thought fell flat.

The acting was really dodgy in some spots, the current event references always felt very boilerplate in the writing, the way many of the side characters felt like something out of the karate kid, which is fine for the karate kid but problematic for a film like this.

My main problem though was I just did not think Mason was a very interesting character. Now yeah its trying to be an every man type of story, but it still should be interesting even in its normalcy. I never felt that, and another major problem comes from something that I will get to in a moment.

Hawke - (I won't give my full thoughts because if Boyhood makes a major play he could be nominated, but I will say that I thought he gave the best performance in the film)

Coltrane - 2.5(I thought he was good in the earliest scenes as there was not a hint of self-awareness in his portrayal of the kid. Once a couple of years go by though Coltrane gains the worst tendencies of a child actor. I think the best way to describe it is that he goes into some high levels of smirk acting. The naturalism is completely gone and I could always see Coltrane performing in every scene. Past that though I found him particularly unlikable, and not at all endearing in any regard. He really just became rather boring to be honest. If it were not for the very early scenes my rating would be lower)

luke higham said...

Louis: Will you be seeing Guardians of the Galaxy anytime soon.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Totally disagree on Boyhood. I thought even with some of its flaws, it played out how life does. Calling it a gimmick is the worst kind of oversimplification. Sure, Mason was a little problematic, but the parent more than made up for it. Plus the references of what was going on at the time didn't feel forced at all.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke: Not Sure.

Robert: Well when you get down to it the same story could have been told with the old three changes of actors for Mason, and some slight make up on the Hawke and Arquette. It obviously took an extra amount of effort to do it this way, but in terms of telling a good story it merely is cool visual effect.

The flaw of atrocious acting usually is not the case of how life plays out, and there were too many of those. The scene with the older students, as well as the bullies were particularly bad, and much of the dialogue seemed like an older guy thinking he knows how the kids talk, true dat an all.

The story not being particularly interesting is not everyone's life, interesting things that happen to people are often turned into movies. Of course you don't need a plot to tell a great film, but this lacked interesting characters except, for me anyway, for one character.

Arquette's story actually I thought was terribly repetitive, which could be okay if it offered any insight in terms of this repetition. It also did not help that to me the first step-father might as well have been played by Terry O'Quinn.

Now I perhaps would have even been fine with a film that just showed these lives for a while, but it does attempt to be insightful with its various speeches given by different characters, who all seem to be looking for the meaning of life, that aren't terribly insightful, and the ones by Mason are cringe inducing.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

So will you review Hawke if he isn't nominated? Because he's also my favorite thing about it.

Louis Morgan said...

Maybe I'll have to see how the supporting line up pans out, but he's certainly not out of the question.

Psifonian said...

Glad someone else wasn't enamored with "Boyhood."

luke higham said...

Louis: Your top ten most chilling/disturbing performances that you've ever seen.

Michael McCarthy said...

I enjoyed Boyhood, it's pretty safely in my top 10 of the year so far. I do think it's a liiiiittle bit overrated, but if the whole 12-year thing was a "gimmick" it was at least a gimmick I enjoyed, as for me it made the whole story feel very organic. I didn't think Mason was all that interesting either, but I thought he was always realistic. I also really liked Hawke and Arquette.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Michael said it better than I did.

Michael Patison said...

I'll agree with Michael and Robert on this one. As I think more and more about it, I find it more and more overrated. I was initially so enamored with how organic it felt. It felt like real life, and I think that's somewhat due to the continuity of actors. I also felt the pop culture references were good and not forced. I don't know, it just felt real.

That being said, it has many faults. The supporting acting (episodic, not Arquette and Hawke) ranges from serviceable to reprehensible. Actually that's about it. The supporting acting is just really bad a lot of the time. I didn't really feel Coltrane was bad, but I 100% agree Mason was a pretty boring character. My rating on my blog is certainly too high and I'm changing it immediately after I post this.

That being said, I still really liked it. Hawke's definitely the best part and he's probably my supporting win at this point.

I also can't tell what you meant exactly by your comment about Terry O'Quinn. Were you saying the character was bad? Were you saying Terry O'Quinn is bad? (He's too awesome and terrific to be bad). Were you saying the acting was bad? (It was).

Michael McCarthy said...

I enjoyed the Majin Buu cameo at the beginning haha, and yeah I'll agree that some of the acting was bad, not the least of which was pre-Descendants Nick Krause.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

I actually liked the girl who played Mason's girlfriend.

Louis Morgan said...


I'll get you that list in a bit.

Michael Patison:

I did not mean that the references to current events were forced. What I felt was that they were written in a way that was one of the most obvious things you could write if referencing that particular topic.

I was referencing the film Step-Father where O'Quinn plays a psychopath who marries into families only to later murder them.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Actually, I figured they worked as great timestamps. That, and I'm only a little older than Mason, so I remember seeing a lot of that stuff around that time. I thought it was sort of clever. Part of the reason I liked the movie so much was that I recognized A LOT of what was going on. As for Mason being unlikable, I tend to give it more slack because I knew someone in high school who was EXACTLY like that.

Louis Morgan said...


1.Richard Attenborough - 10 Rillington Place
2.Dennis Hopper - Blue Velvet
3.Peter Lorre - M
4.Robert Blake - Lost Highway
5.Jeremy Irons - Dead Ringers
6.Robert Mitchum - The Night of the Hunter
7.Tatsuya Nakadai - The Sword of Doom
8.Choi Min-Sik - I Saw the Devil
9.Dennis Hopper - River's Edge
10.Ralph Fiennes - Schindler's List

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Hopper in River's Edge? I thought he was less unsettling than Roebuck to be honest.

Anonymous said...

Louis, what are your ratings and thoughts on Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey and Winona Ryder in Black Swan? And do you like the movie?

Anonymous said...

What would be your ratings and thoughts on Nicole Kidman and Matthew McConaughey in The Paperboy? I thought that they were the only redeeming quality of that terrible movie.

Kevin said...

What are your thoughts on True Detective? As well as Harrelson and McConaughey's performances?

luke higham said...

Louis: I've decided to make lists of films for you to watch after you're finished with the alternative years & onto the bonus rounds. Each list will be done per genre & by per year. If I've missed anything, I'll be grateful to anyone filling me in. At the moment, I'm only do years that have been covered, as well as silent years & will post updates for every coming year as well.

luke higham said...

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
The Head of Janus

Nosferatu - I know you've seen it, but would like to see a full review for Schreck anyway.

The Hands of Orlac

The Phantom of the Opera

The Cat and the Canary
The Unknown


luke higham said...

Murders in The Zoo

The Black Room
Condemned to Live
Mad Love
Mark of the Vampire

luke higham said...

Cat People

The Leopard Man
I Walked With a Zombie
The Seventh Victim

Dead of Night
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Isle of the Dead

luke higham said...

The Thing From Another World

The Creature from the Black Lagoon

Bride of the Monster
Les Diaboliques
The Quatermass Xperiment

The Curse of Frankenstein
The Incredible Shrinking Man
Night of the Demon

The Fly
The Revenge of Frankenstein

luke higham said...

Black Sunday
Eyes Without A Face
House of Usher
The Little Shop of Horrors
Village of The Damned

The Pit and the Pendulum

Black Sabbath
The Haunting

Blood and Black Lace
Castle of Blood


Dracula: Prince of Darkness
Kill, Baby, Kill
The Plague of the Zombies

The Devil Rides Out
Hour of the Wolf
Night of The Living Dead
Rosemary's Baby
Witchfinder General

luke higham said...

Blood on Satan's Claw
The Bird With The Crystal Plummage

The Abominable Dr. Phibes
The Cat O' Nine Tales
The Devils
Daughters of Darkness
Mephisto Waltz
Twitch of the Death Nerve

The Crazies
Don't Look Now
From Beyond The Grave
Theatre of Blood
The Wicker Man

Black Christmas
Let Sleeping Corpses Lie
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Salo/120 Days of Sodom

Damien: Omen II
Dawn of The Dead
I Spit On Your Grave
The Shout

The Amityville Horror
The Brood
The Driller Killer
When a Stranger Calls
Zombi 2

luke higham said...

The Fog
Friday The 13th
The Watcher In The Woods

The Beyond
The Burning
The Howling
The Evil Dead
Friday The 13th Part II
Omen III
Suddenly at Midnight

Day of the Dead
Fright Night
The Return of The Living Dead

Friday The 13th Part VI
From Beyond

Bad Taste
Evil Dead II
Near Dark
Nightmare on Elm Street III
Prince of Darkness

Brain Damage
Child's Play

luke higham said...


Army of Darkness
Body Snatchers

Wes Craven's New Nightmare

From Dusk Till Dawn

Alien Resurrection
Scream 2

The Blair Witch Project
Stir of Echoes

Michael McCarthy said...

RIP Joan Rivers

luke higham said...

Final Destination

The Devil's Backbone
From Hell
The Others

Blade II
Cabin Fever
Dark Water
The Ring

Final Destination II

Dawn of The Dead
Open Water
The Village

The Descent
The Exorcism of Emily Rose
Land of The Dead
Wolf Creek

Eden Lake
Let The Right One In
The Strangers

Drag Me To Hell
The House of The Devil
The Loved Ones
Trick 'R Treat

luke higham said...

Black Death
The Crazies
The Last Exorcism
Let Me In
Tucker & Dale V Evil

Attack The Block
Don't Be Afraid of The Dark
Final Destination 5
Fright Night
The Innkeepers
Kill List

The Cabin in The Woods
The Woman in Black

The Conjuring
Warm Bodies
World War Z

luke higham said...

Louis: Your Ratings & Thoughts for the cast of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe.

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscat said...

Luke what are yoyr thoughts and ratings on the cast of Attack the Block

luke higham said...

GDSAO: Only saw the first five minutes of it, so I can't really say.

For the lists, I only went with films that had a mixed to positive critical reception or a good cult following.

I'm a lot more comfortable just giving ratings than thoughts for performances anyway.

Horror Films that I've actually seen are The Omen, Mama, The Woman in Black, Black Death, Cloverfield, The Village, Shaun of The Dead, Silence of The Lambs, Hannibal, Bram Stoker's Dracula, Dracula: Prince of Darkness, Witchfinder General & The Wicker Man.

luke higham said...

Also Horror of Dracula and The Devils.

luke higham said...

There's one film, I've forgot to include on the lists, and that's Cannibal Holocaust from 1980.

Louis Morgan said...


Kunis - 4(I thought she brought the right visceral sting with her performance, even though there were a few moments where I think she went a little bigger than she needed to. It's certainly a solid performance though)

Hershey - 2(Where Kunis perhaps went a little too big on occasion Hershey spent the entire film overdrawn. Every expression she made was slightly absurd in her intensity, and I felt she failed to really ground it properly. On the other hand if she was just going for absurdity I did not find her particularly entertaining or intimidating)

Ryder - 2.5(She was fine with her extremely brief screen time. I just think there was enough there to leave that much an impression either way though)

I'm not very keen on the film actually, and like The Wrestler I feel Aronofsky allows the story to have too little depth to give way for his directorial flair. I will admit he has some interesting tricks up his sleeve in that regard but it's not enough to make up for the thin characters he draws.

Kidman - 2.5(I appreciate the effort on her part in that an over the top trashy performance is what the film called for, but her performance failed to elevate the material or least just be enjoyable on its own right)

McConaughey - 3(He was wholly solid doing his absolute best to give a little conviction and weight to the material while no one else seemed to care all that much. He is not given enough to do to make anything substantial out of his role, but he still managed to be the best part of the film anyway)


I thought True Detective was a pretty great series altogether. It had a fantastic atmosphere throughout, and although the mystery got a little muddled at times it managed to overcome through the consistently compelling lead character. The ending I know many have criticized, and perhaps it does end on a slightly to simple of a note, but I have to say I found the whole cave sequence to be one of the most intense scenes I've seen in a long time.

Both Harrelson and McConaughey give career best work(although I should note that I still haven't finished Rampart).

McConaughey is amazing in playing such introverted character and nails everyone of his long speeches. Harrelson though I think manages to almost match him with his more unassuming, but often just as outstanding work. For example although I thought McCounaghey was exceptional in his final speech of the show the most moving moment for me came just in Harrelson's reaction when Marty sees his family once again.


Moseley - 2.5(He's most serviceable in the role, and at least is confidant enough not to child actor style overacting. The problem is whenever there is a scene that requires a little more from him, there is a certain awkwardness as if he's unsure what exactly his character should be doing)

Popplewell - 2.5(Again like Moseley she is mainly serviceable, and I think she gets across her character well enough. I thought she was a little bland though)

Henley - 3(I'll again serviceable, but I thought she managed to bring a little more charm to her role than her aforementioned on-screen siblings)

Keynes - 3(He's solid enough in portraying first the bratty qualities of his character than slowly showing the building maturity of Edmund throughout. It's nothing amazing but I do feel he handles the part rather well)

Neeson - 3(Neeson has a the perfect voice for the brave mentor type figure, so his voice certainly works here)

McAvoy - 3(I'll be honest I always forget that McAvoy was Mr. Tumnus. Even though Tumnus one of the names you always here in relation to the story he's actually fairly unimportant. McAvoy does just fine with the little he has though)

Swinton - 4(Easily the best of the bunch as she seems absolutely perfectly cast as an ice queen. Swinton really manages to carry herself with a great menace well never needing to go too over the top either. She's also rather good in the early scenes with the false sense of comfort she brings in her manipulation of Edmund)