Max Manus: Man of War (2008) / War-Drama
MPAA - Not rated, but probably PG-13 for violence, some language and subject matter
Running time: 118 min.
Cast: Aksel Hennie, Agnes Kittelsen, Nicolai Cleve Broch, Ken Duken, Christian Rubeck, Knut Jonner, Mats Eldoen, Viktoria Winge
Director: Joachim Roenning, Espen Sandberg
Screenplay: Thomas Nordseth-Tiller
Max Manus is a solidly produced docudrama, though not always the most involving, based on the true-life story of Max Manus (Hennie, Hawaii Oslo), a resistance fighter on the side of Norway during the Nazi occupation during World War II. He earns a reputation for his escape from Finland during the war with the invading Russian forces, where he makes a daring leap through a window. When he and his compatriots, later dubbed the Oslo Gang, develop methods of propaganda lands them into trouble, Manus travels to Scotland to learn how to fight with the Allies. They soon turn to more hands-on means of getting their message across -- doing deeds for the royal family taken to exile and using explosives to target the German ships occupying the local harbor in Oslo and rail lines important to northern Europe.
The film covers the Scandinavian side to World War II that isn't often highlighted in the world history books, though the story is obviously more well known in Norway, no doubt stirring the feeling of national pride that there was more to the ongoing battle after getting overrun by the Germans in a short amount of time. Not surprisingly, Max Manus would become one of Norway's all-time highest grossing films.
What keeps Max Manus from transcending into a great film is the clear lack of definition of the central character, and what it is about the makeup of his character, other than sheer patriotism, that motivates him to perform the acts of heroism that he does. The screenplay by first-timer Nordseth-Tiller connects the dots in terms of the feats, though some historians have quibbled on whether Manus was involved with a few of the events, and yet we don't get much of a glimpse of the people underneath the deeds, or the psychology involved in their coalescing around their cause. This does make the film suffer somewhat as Max does a few selfish things in his personal life, including playing home wrecker to married woman (she claims her marriage is stagnant), and doing a few self-destructive acts (jumping out of a window to escape his would-be captors) that are seen as great moments in the movement rather than mere self-preservation, and often it's just sheer luck.
Directors Roenning and Sandberg (Bandidas) have made a very handsome piece, with stellar cinematography by Geir Hartly Andreassen (Darling, Long Flat Balls) and some very good special effects, but there are some weaknesses as well. Despite the gloss, the scenes of action lack that requisite amount of tension, and when events do transpire, they lack punch to deliver any more goods than impressive explosions. Some of the problems may be due to there not being enough budget to stage a full-on action scene, especially when such things as the destruction of a massive ship is called for. Though the film is under two hours, which is often short for an epic of this magnitude, the film feels much longer, especially during the romantic scenes between Manus and his flirtatious relationship with the married Tikken (Kittelsen, Happy Happy).
For lovers of war films, particularly those with an interest in a rare chapter in World War II history, Max Manus remains a solid entry, excellent from a technical perspective, and interesting enough in its story to make it a worthwhile venture for most. It's not as stirring as other well-known Hollywood features, but it hits enough right notes to ultimately emerge as a commendable entry in the already crowded war biopic genre.
©2011 Vince Leo