The pinnacle of pure Hollywood vapidity, Alone in Berlin is another in a seemingly incessant line of Caucasian-centered historical dramas wherein focal characters are tasked with overcoming odds in an attempt to rise above their circumstances. Although perfectly casted, the English-speaking actors talking with variously dubious German accents kills any semblance of period tone and instantly removes us from 1940. Every bit of meticulous work from the set/production designers is ruined by the 4K digital camera, belittling their craft and lowering it to the level of a cable television drama.
Alone in Berlin focuses on Nazi dissenters Otto (Brendan Gleeson) and Anna Quangel (Emma Thompson), who, after the death of their soldier son, worked against “staggering” odds in order to subvert the growing Fascist cause. By day, Otto is a machinist at a woodworking factory, but at night, he sits down to write subversive political messages on postcards in order to leave them sitting all over Berlin. Catching wind of this act of sedition, the German police force (headed by Daniel Brühl’s Inspector Escherich and eventually the SS) steps in to quickly put an end to this “madness.”
Try as they might, Gleeson, Thompson and Brühl cannot deliver their audience from the blandness of the screenplay by Vincent Perez, Achim von Borries and Bettine von Borries. As a director, Perez makes his audience incessantly aware of the danger the Quangels are constantly facing — thereby removing any natural sense of tension. Otto’s singular focus towards bringing down the Nazis and sparking revolution from inside Germany plays poorly alongside his obsessive mantra, “We have nothing left to live for.” If Otto and Anna are sulking parents who feel alone inside of their own country, why should an audience care about their cause? Sure, 285 letters spread around the city under the watchful eye of SS and Gestapo officers is impressive, but compared to the acts of the Partisans, Polish Leśni or La Résistance, what makes anything the Quangel’s did worth 103 minutes of screen time? If Perez or the von Borries cannot seem to find an answer, what chance do they have of convincing their sleepy audience?
An overlong melodramatic exercise in aridity, Alone in Berlin fails as a testament to the efforts of the Quangels and fails to tell a cohesive, engaging story. Offering little more than “the Nazis were bullies to just about everyone,” Perez’s film feels like Oscar-bait from which someone forgot to remove the training wheels.
Jordan Brooks (@viewtoaqueue) is an increasingly-snobby cinefile based out of London, England. As a contributor to several online publications, including his own blog, he has succeeded in fulfilling his life long dream of imposing strong opinions on others.