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Max Manus: Man of War (Blu-ray Review)

24 Aug, 2011 By: John Latchem

Music Box
$29.95 DVD, $38.94 Blu-ray
Not rated.
In Norwegian with English subtitles.
Stars Aksel Hennie, Agnes Kittelsen, Nicolai Cleve Broch, Ken Duken, Christian Rubeck.

The Norwegian film Max Manus: Man of War is a stellar production based on the true story of Max Manus, an ersatz adventurer with almost no education who ended up a national hero.

At the outbreak of World War II, Max (Aksel Hennie) fought in Finland as a Norwegian volunteer to help repel a Soviet invasion in 1939. He returns to find his own homeland has surrendered to Nazi rule in less than two months. Max quickly joins a small resistance cell that mainly prints anti-Nazi fliers to spread around Norway’s major cities. With their minimal training, they attract attention and Max has to escape from the SS by jumping out his apartment window.

Eventually he ends up in Scotland for proper military training and takes charge of a commando unit sent back to Norway to sabotage Nazi efforts. From here the film sets itself up like a Norwegian version of Inglourious Basterds, right down to the ruthless but charming Nazi officer (Ken Duken) hunting the team. The movies love Nazis as villains since it’s easy to depict them as suspicious of everyone and willing to execute innocent people to prove a point.

Man of War, however, deftly and thoughtfully explores the psychological tolls even fighting for a just cause can wrought. When his friends start dying in the course of their duties, Max finds his conscience weighed down by the burdens of command. His only constant is his love for Tikken (Agnes Kittelsen), the unit’s liaison to the Allies. But she is married to an English diplomat, which only complicates their potential relationship.

Max’s primary goal becomes the destruction of a German troop transport named the Donau, a boat that, among other things, had been used to transport nearly 600 Jews to concentration camps. Max’s mission takes on greater urgency when news arrives that German troops stationed in Norway will be re-deployed to the Battle of the Bulge.

As the movie eloquently (and perhaps simplistically) explains, should these extra troops allow Hitler to withstand the Allied invasion of the European mainland, he could win the war and increase his hold over Europe, nullifying the efforts of the Norwegian resistance.

A 45-minute featurette about the making of the film compares the reality of Manus’ exploits to those depicted in the film, using interviews with the filmmakers, Manus’ surviving friends and family, and archive footage of Manus himself, mostly from a 1995 interview he conducted a year before he died.

For film buffs, this piece nicely details the process of adapting historical events into a two-hour narrative, delving into the logic of what has to be left out or altered for the sake of story. For history buffs, the film and its companion piece are fascinating glimpses into often-overlooked aspects of the war and should not be missed.

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