Max Manus Man Of War

Max Manus Man Of War


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

If you're not Norwegian, the chances are you've never heard of Max Manus. If you are, you'll probably already have heard a great deal about this film. Yet the story of this national hero is in many ways a universal one. Am ordinary young man who had fought against the Russians to defend Finland, he was, like many Norwegians, distraught at the way his country surrendered its sovereignty to the Nazis during the Second World War. But unlike most other people, he decided to do something about it.

By presenting the story of a heroic man in a style which completely undermines the usual approach to such subjects, Max Manus Man Of War makes a valuable contribution to the genre and to Norway's relationship with its history. All the elements that contributed to the legend are here - the brave jump through a window to try to evade capture, the daring sabotage missions, the sinking of the battleship Donau - and they are all exciting to watch, but they are not glamorised.

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The young Max is presented as naive and idealistic, carelessly raising his head above the parapet, but already he is haunted by dreams of the battlefield where he served. As his campaign goes on, though he wins increasing acclaim, he struggles with increasing feelings of depression and despair which have nothing to do with whether or not he thinks he can win - it's the price of war that he's no longer sure he can stand.

With its sombre mood and sombre palette, this could easily have been a depressing film to watch, but it's enlivened by charismatic performances, not least from Aksel Hennie as Max and Ken Duken as Siegfried Fehmer, the German commander who became his strategic opponent. Charming and friendly and enamoured of all things Norwegian (including the local women), Fehmer cannot understand why the local people don't welcome the Nazis, but his frustration with what he perceives as terrorism leads him to take drastic measures. This picture of a Nazi as a complex human being is something fairly new to cinema in the region, but no attempt is made to excuse Fehmer's war crimes.

Thoughtful and intelligent but still full of gripping action, this film is both entertaining and provocative. It never quite reaches the heights one initially suspects it might, perhaps because some of its wit is lost in translation (foreign audiences may also struggle with some of the musical references), but it's still a solid piece of filmmaking and a fascinating history lesson.

Reviewed on: 04 Jun 2009
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A portrait of the legendary Norwegian resistance fighter who took up arms to drive the Nazis out of his country.
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Director: Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandberg

Writer: Thomas Nordseth-Tiller

Starring: Aksel Hennie, Ken Duken, Agnes Kittelsen, Nicolai Cleve Broch, Christian Rubeck, Viktoria Winge

Year: 2008

Runtime: 118 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Norway, Denmark, Germany


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