“Max Manus: Man of War” is a Norwegian film about a famous national hero. It is a biographical war movie that is based on Manus’ biographies and other historical research. The film was a major production and used 1,800 extras and 2,000 people behind the cameras. Parts of Oslo were adapted to represent the 1940s including flying Nazi Germany flags above public buildings. The movie was a big hit in Norway and won numerous awards. It was Norway’s submission for Best Foreign Film for the Oscars.
The movie opens with Manus (Aksel Hennie) fighting in the Winter War in Finland. He is in the middle of a battle. The movie then jumps to him in a hospital bed. The plot is nonlinear and will return to the Winter War battle as a framing device. When he returns to Norway, Manus joins the Resistance. He and his buddies form a group and put out a propaganda paper. They are like frat boys enjoying the adrenaline rush. Many of those friends will not survive the war. After being captured by the Gestapo, Max escapes to Great Britain. In Scotland, he is trained in sabotage. In particular, the new unit targets German shipping in Oslo harbor. Operation Mardonius involves sneaking around the harbor after dark to lay Limpet mines. The mines are hand-placed below the waterlines. Every superhero needs a supervillain. Gestapo agent Fehmer plays this role. He hounds Manus and his Oslo Gang. The pressure wears on Max and he shows symptoms of PTSD. He is still able to go for one last big score. The target is a munitions ship called the Donau. Even a Norwegian movie needs a huge explosion, right?
Based on my research, the movie appears to be accurate. Of course, much of this depends on the veracity of Manus’ recollections. Some have called into question whether he actually fought in the Winter War, but the consensus is that he did. This is fortunate because the scenes flashing back to the battle juice up the film and are a good framing device. The rest of Manus’ acts are believable. His superhero actions are balanced with some luck. For instance, he is lucky that the Gestapo was incompetent. At one point he is left virtually unguarded in a hospital and he is able to escape. This in spite of his being one of the most wanted men in Norway. The sabotage efforts in the harbor take advantage of laughable security. These missions must have been accurate, otherwise the screenwriter would have added more suspense to the film. His trips back and forth to England are not fraught with tension. Most of the tension in the movie comes from Manus’ reaction to the loss of friends. One theme of the movie is survivor’s guilt. Hennie does a good job portraying this. The acting overall is fine.
“Max Manus” is a middle of the road Resistance movie. It is certainly inferior to its closest relative “Flame and Citron”. This does not make it a bad movie. There is some interesting cinematography. The dialogue is fine, if unmemorable. As a history fanatic, the accuracy is a big plus, but is also a weakness since the movie lacks suspense. To tell the truth, after watching the movie, I wondered why Manus is such a national hero.
GRADE = B-