Directed by Peter Thorwarth, a German production from Netflix released on May 26th.
It is quite common to observe that narratives involving World War II in some way gain notoriety due to the rich possibilities for exploration within that period. I have noticed that one of the trends over the past fifteen years is to bring small-scale stories, increasingly focused on the chaos in Germany between 1944 and 1945 – whether within Germany itself or in occupied territories.
The most obvious reference, perhaps, is Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds.” This serves as a good initial comparison, but I would also like to mention the recent case of “Sisu,” which shares a striking resemblance in terms of motivation. In “Sisu,” German soldiers were more concerned with obtaining gold than with the war itself. In parallel with “Sisu,” there is a connection between these two films regarding violence, Nazis as major villains, and the portrayal of a commander who embodies evil. However, on the other hand, I believe that director Peter Thorwarth draws inspiration from the elements found in traditional Italian Westerns, which adds an intriguing layer to the narrative.
While this film is an interesting addition to the catalog, it lacks a distinctive factor beyond the portrayal of Nazis being brutally killed – an approach that is certainly not new in cinema and has been explored many times before. At times, I felt that the film tried to rely on the unpredictability of its action sequences, but the director often resorted to scenes to validate character motivations.
Set in the spring of 1945, just before the end of World War II. Elsa and Heinrich quickly realize that they have more in common than their common enemy. Both fight for justice, against the Nazis and for their families. Heinrich is looking for his daughter. But in Elsa’s remote village, a Jewish treasure of gold is hidden that the Nazis want to plunder. An action-packed search for the treasure begins, villagers against the SS. The greed for the gold brings secrets to light and ends in a bloody showdown in the village church.
The film incorporates some intriguing details regarding the German perspective at the end of World War II. There is a message of defending the homeland at all costs, even to the point where deserters were not brought to the so-called “People’s Court” for judgment. The SS battalions themselves would condemn and hang them. Additionally, the film highlights the soldiers’ addiction to methamphetamine at the beginning.
While it is evident that Tarantino’s influence can be observed, the director also pays homage to films from the 1970s that fall within the Nazi exploitation subgenre, which focused on sadism but with the distinct difference of featuring significantly more violence.
Italian Westerns also serve as an inspiration for this film: the movie explores a small community invaded by individuals who possess far greater power, disrupting the community’s routine and exposing its hidden secrets.
This kind of risk pleased me sometimes, as the film gradually narrows its focus onto a specific location and presents two storylines: one follows Heinrich and Elza’s journey, where they must make constant high-stakes decisions, and the other tracks the Nazis’ relentless pursuit of the hidden gold.
In terms of action, what makes the film particularly engaging is its series of attempts to surprise the audience by generating interest in certain characters who face genuine danger. The initial development provides a compelling revenge plot and the protection of a specific location. However, what truly disappointed me was the creative team’s decision to render the town more vulnerable through a series of minimally impactful supporting characters. Although these characters receive screen time and have parallel storylines, their cases lack sufficient development.
Robert Maaser naturally establishes himself as the protagonist and the object of our interest. However, unlike “Sisu,” which fearlessly embraces its concept of one man against a battalion and offers creative solutions, this film excessively relies on selectivity. Obvious decisions are occasionally overlooked in an attempt to achieve heightened realist action. While the characters may appear more vulnerable, the final confrontation – a key element for a film inspired by Italian Westerns – is a letdown.
Nonetheless, by Netflix standards, it stands above average.