Max Manus: Man of War
Biographical War Film, Straight Up
Let’s deal with expectations.
When I see
So let’s clear this up right away: Max Manus: Man of War is not a Mad Max-inspired Norwegian re-take on WW II Nazi resistance. Not at all. So invoking that image may be a no-brainer as far as marketing goes, but it’s also a bait-and-switch ploy.
In the first place, “Max Manus” is not a fictional character—or even a made-up name; Manus was a real-life Norwegian military hero who only recently passed away. In the second place, the film is not at all informed by the specter of Mel Gibson, though Manus was perhaps larger-than-life than any character Gibson has either played or the press has imagined him to be.
A twenty-something international adventurer and rogue, Manus first saw military action as a volunteer with the Finnish army in their brief war with the Russians at the outset of the WW II—and his recollections of that horror form the flashback framework for this biographical account of his anti-Nazi resistance work during the German occupation of Norway.
Bouncing back and forth between
For his part, Manus manages to avoid capture and fatality through a little bit of luck—and a lot of chutzpah. The one time the Nazis get their hands on him, when he’s still quite green and careless, he foils their plans by flinging himself out a window… which lands him in a hospital bed rather than a prison cell. And we all know from which it is easier to escape. In another close call—one in which Manus’ closest associate, Gregers Gram, is killed—Manus manages to be in
I don’t feel like I’m spoiling anything at all by dishing some of the details in this story. This is one of those “true story” films which are so earnest in getting all the details “right” that much of the life gets sucked out of them. Okay—so Manus is the most highly-decorated military hero in
At the same time, the film is always entertaining and clearly had the support of the entire nation in its making. This is big-budget filmmaking that, stylistically speaking, fits in nicely with classic European war films like The Bridge on the River Kwai, Zulu, or even Richard Attenborough’s A Bridge Too Far. In fact, this feels like a British war film, long on fact, concise with the action, with lots of expository dialogue and not much in the way of emotion.
As a history lesson, the film is fantastic. And performances are generally top-notch, though the casting (and even scripting) seems at times like the production was designed as a parade of “Who’s Who in Norwegian Cinema.” Just as one for-instance, I’m sure that Norwegian audiences were thrilled at the inclusion of Viktoria Winge; but seriously: what, exactly, does the fictional character of Fehmer’s secretary add to the narrative but eye candy and empty sexual tension?
Still and all, if you understand what you’re picking up with Max Manus (and don’t mind reading subtitles), this is a pretty satisfying war film. You won’t mind at all having invested a couple hours in it.
Max Manus: Man of War is unrated. But given that this is war picture, with the requisite violence, call it a very restrained and reserved PG-13.
Courtesy of a national publicist, Greg screened a promotional copy of Max Manus: Man of War.