Published Apr 01, 2010Already a box office hit in Norway, WWII espionage thriller Max Manus (about the eponymous and widely known Norwegian resistance fighter) is a mixed bag, capturing the awkwardness of inexperienced warriors and an appropriate sense of humour, but it never feels entirely cohesive as a film. Broad historical strokes come and go, letting us know what it is that Manus got up to, while relationships are presented in an expositional light and huge chunks of time pass without warnings or transitions.
Starting things out, Max (Aksel Hennie) fights alongside the Finnish against the Russians during the Winter War of 1939, returning to Norway on the day the Germans invaded (in April of 1940). Starting up the Norwegian Resistance Movement, Max and friends distribute anti-Nazi leaflets and create some generalized mischief, much like the disaffected youth of today, only without the mass genocide.
Eventually the Gestapo arrests an injured Max, holding him until he escapes by jumping through a second story window. Historical accounts suggest, however, that his escape was much less cinematic.
Manus then heads to England to receive military training, which led to his becoming a saboteur in the Lingekompaniet, sinking ships that were important to the German Kriegsmarine using limpet mines. Through all of this, he maintains a boyish charm and identifiable frankness that make the sabotage attempts and discomforting battles seem less cinematically glossy and more unpredictable.
Of course, there's a hardening of character as the film progresses, dictated by generalized moodiness, alcoholism and a couple of emotional outbursts, but for the most part, this battle is presented with youthful whimsy, interrupted only by brutal and unflinching realities.
While this is indeed an impressive tone to maintain, it comes at the expense of overall investment, as the film leaves little impact, never giving us the sense of camaraderie and connection the dialogue occasionally suggests. (D Films)