The title of 13 Minutes is a reference to the slim margin of time that could’ve made all the difference in World War II; had musician Georg Elser’s handmade bomb gone off thirteen minutes earlier, and killed Adolf Hitler.
Frontloading Elser’s (Christian Friedel’s) failure suits the film’s approach, which examines both the aftermath of his assassination attempt and the circumstances that led him to this revolutionary act. Post-explosion, the film assumes a tone akin to The Passion of Joan of Arc – though without Dreyer’s intense artistry – but never quite justifies our observation of Elser’s torture. There’s narrative tension surrounding whether or not Elser worked alone, but it’s unsustained.
The flashbacks are more successful; rather than justify Elser’s actions with personal trauma, Oliver Hirschbiegel surveys the rise of Nazism in the small community of Königsbronn alongside Elser’s love affair with the married Elsa (Katharina Schüttler); it’s impossible to miss the parallels when Elser watches helplessly as Elsa is beaten by her husband. But the film’s insistence on positioning Elser as a universal symbol of German resistance – at the expense of specificity – irked me. I wish that the meticulous detail granted to explosives preparation had been shared with its portrayal of Königsbronn.