Max Manus: Man of War (Blu-ray)
This 2008 Norwegian film got a limited US release in late 2010 as part of an Academy Awards push, but I don’t recall any real press for the film in the midwest. This is a shame, because it’s a beautifully constructed, true story of sabotage and propaganda in the middle of World War II. What’s more, it is a different take on the common ‘Nazi’s are bad’ storyline that we’ve seen both in movies and video games with increasing regularity over the past 15 years.
Max, played with dark charisma by Aksel Hennie, returns to Norway after fighting the invading Soviet/Nazi forces in Finland. Upon his return he finds that his homeland has officially decided the best defense is to simply allow the Nazi’s into the country without a military response. Max and his friends join up with the Norwegian resistance, but they’re young and brash and poorly organized. It doesn’t take long for the Gestapo to discover what they’re doing. They are waiting for him when he returns from a planning session and they discover that he has a box of dynamite under his bed. In a revelatory moment, he surprises the troops and jumps out the window of his apartment. When he awakens with a concussion in the hospital, he’s able to reconnect with the resistance and escape.
The resistance is able to help Max travel to Scotland, where he joins a military unit trained by the British government. This unit specializes in sabotage, working within occupied areas completely undercover to aid the allies from within. Gregers (solidly played by Nicolai Cleve Broch), one of Max’s closest friends, has been with the unit for some time and teaches the saboteurs how to create propaganda. Gregers and Max’s relationship really takes off here. It’s clear that the two are best friends, and they have a nice chemistry together. This chemistry is what holds the movie together. Gregers loves what they’re doing but still seems as naïve as Max in the opening scenes. Max feels a need to take care of him, and of all his brothers in arms… and the turmoil this causes within Max is what gives the movie teeth.
The themes presented at the beginning of the movie – Max’s patriotism, his love of his friends, and his simple ability to survive – continue to evolve throughout the film. Max’s survival skills bring him through some tough times, but each time one of his friends is caught or killed the weight on his shoulders increases exponentially. This approach to the film is what makes it beautiful, and probably what will turn some people off. MAX MANUS: MAN OF WAR could easily be a big budget American film with higher level effects and action sequences, but it would lose the intimacy that takes this Norwegian film to the next level. Before I saw this movie I thought I knew all I needed to know about the 2nd World War but if you want to see a fresh take – check out this Blu-ray today.
Video: The Blu-ray looks great in 2.35:1 Widescreen. Much of the film is shot in an intimate style that really brings you into the world of the characters. The locations and production design are beautifully transferred to the small screen.
Audio: The film is presented in Norwegian DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. English subtitles are available and are well done. The audio brings you yet again closer to the characters and is a completely immersive experience.
Featurette: Max Manus: Film & Reality (45:55) This featurette ties the Blu-ray together like a perfectly annotated volume of a great literary work. Included is archival footage, interviews with the filmmakers and cast, tapes of interviews with Mr. Manus talking of his exploits during the war, several of the friends featured during the film and additional interviews with his wife and daughter. When you watch any film that is supposedly based on a true story, you wonder how many elements are true and what is ‘poetic license’ taken by the filmmakers. This featurette takes the hassle out of figuring that out and adds to the context of the film on the greater world stage.
Theatrical Trailer (2:17) for the film is also included.