Alone in Berlin is a gratifying movie about a working class couple in Nazi Germany who choose to risk their lives fighting against Hitler.
The movie is based on the German novel of the same name written by Hans Fallada. First published in 1947 and based on a true story, the book Alone in Berlin is also titled Every Man Dies Alone.
For some reason the critics did not like this one. The film review site Rotten Tomatoes only gives it a 38 percent rating. The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and NPR were among those who did not like it.
But Alone in Berlin offers superb performances by all, especially by its three leads Brendan Gleeson, Emma Thompson and Daniel Brühl. It also does a fine job of recreating what life must have been like back then in Germany, while offering the audience the perspective of the Berlin police as they investigate the case.
Brendan Gleeson is possibly the single most underrated actor in the world today. This may be because he is in so many movies all the time. In “Alone in Berlin” he plays Otto Quangel, a German man who loses his only son during the invasion of France in 1940.
Never a nazi before, Quangel decides to go out on a one man crusade of dissent against Adolph Hitler. He does so in the only way possible in World War II Berlin: Quangel hand writes notes critical of the regime which he personally leaves at different apartments around the city. In this effort he is aided by his wife Anna Quangel.
Gleeson’s performance as the bereaved father who must continue to go to work every day in a factory crucial to the German war effort, which he so opposes, is brilliant. He is an angry, bitter and depressed man, but Gleeson plays Quangel with just the right level of subdued emotion. He seems like he could lose his cool at any moment, but Quangel somehow manages to keep it together.
Perhaps his firm belief that by spreading the message to the people he will actually affect change gives him the strength to continue. But as we all know, there was no real resistance in Germany by that point.
And this is actually part of what makes “Alone in Berlin so compelling.” We know the futility here, we feel this father’s pain, we want to root for him to somehow succeed, but we know that he will not. He could not. And deep down, he knows this too.
Daniel Brühl plays Escherich in “Alone in Berlin,” the local police detective who investigates the case. You might remember him from “Captain America: Civil War” where he played the bad guy and “Inglourious Basterds” where he played the German World War II hero Fredrick Zoller.
His story plays out separately from Emma Thompson and Brendon Gleeson’s. We get to see Escherich as he performs the standard tasks of any police detective investigating a case: the gathering of evidence, the questioning of suspects and witnesses, and answering to his superiors who are under tremendous political pressure to find the guilty party.
In this way Alone in Berlin offers a view into how ordinary life continues under extreme circumstances, even in nazi Germany during World War II.
Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson also provide the audience with a wonderful portrayal of an older married couple which has lost its only son. The circumstances of the loss are not important here. “Alone in Berlin” is also the story of these two people as they find a way to continue to love and be human beings, I spite of their loss and all of the evil which surrounds them.
So should you see this movie? Definitely.
Unfortunately Alone in Berlin was never in wide release. But it will probably soon be made available for live streaming in all of the usual places.