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13 Minutes

Christian Friedel in "13 Minutes." Lucky Bird Pictures

Nothing in the background of Georg Elser (Christian Friedel) suggests that he would assign himself the task of assassinating Hitler. Yet in 1939 he sneaks into a Munich beer hall and plants explosives, in anticipation of an appearance by Der Fuhrer.

Hitler is scheduled to give a speech that Elser expects to be his last. But things don’t go according to plan, as the Nazi leader departs 13 minutes before the detonation. Not only is the mission a failure, but also Elser is captured by officials who refuse to believe that he acted alone — and are determined to extract a confession.

It’s not surprising that police honcho Arthur Nebe (Burghart Klaussner) and Gestapo chief Heinrich Mueller (Johann von Buelow) are skeptical that Elser is telling the truth. The German citizen is known not as a political activist, but as a ladies’ man with little commitment to anyone but himself. The very notion that he would risk his life and future for a cause seems highly improbable.

But it took Hitler — with his cynical lies about looking out for the working class and his megalomaniacal vision for Germany — to bring out Elser’s inner patriot.

Now he’ll have to pay the price.

Based on a true story, “13 Minutes” is an intriguing portrait of uncompromising courage and thwarted heroism. Working from a screenplay by the father-daughter team of Fred and Léonie-Claire Breinersdorfer, director Oliver Hirschbiegel (“Downfall”) delivers a meticulously detailed story that asks an intriguing question: To what lengths should anyone go to be on the right side of history?

Moviegoers should be warned that the film is unflinching in its portrayal of torture. But that only contributes to its power.

Friedel turns in a poignant performance as a man who feels that he has no choice but to act on his principles, regardless of the consequences.

Although “13 Minutes” is a period piece, it addresses issues that continue to resonate in society.

What “13 Minutes” • Three stars out of four • Run time 1:53 • Rating R • Content Disturbing violence and some sexuality • Language In German with English subtitles

Calvin Wilson is theater critic for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.