Max Manus


Max Manus (2008)

Directed by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg
Written by Thomas Nordseth-Tiller
Starring Aksel Hennie, Agnes Kittelsen, Nicolai Cleve
Run Time: 118 minutes
In Norwegian with English subtitles

At San Francisco’s Balboa Theatre April 8-15, 2011. Soon to be shown in select theaters throughout the U.S. In June, it will be available on DVD.

I had never heard of Max Manus until I saw this eponymous historical film. I’m very glad that I did. “Max Manus” tells the exciting true story of one of Europe’s most celebrated World War II resistance fighters. This epic film has chills, thrills, and tension, as it follows Manus (well acted by Aksel Hennie, “Jonny Vang“) on his dangerous missions, while it also has lessons about the futility of war.

The movie follows Manus chronologically from the outbreak of World War II to the summer of 1945. After fighting as a volunteer against the Russians during the 1939-1940 Winter War in Finland, Manus returns home on the day the Germans invade Norway. So begins his defiance of the occupation.

In 1941, he escapes from the Gestapo and eventually finds his way to Scotland for special saboteur training, after which he parachutes back into his homeland. As leader of the “Oslo Gang,” Manus works underground against the occupiers, through organized resistance, illegal public propaganda and the manufacture of weaponry. Manus and his comrades nearly managed to assassinate Himmler and Goebbels during their visit to Oslo.

Manus starts out as an inexperienced 21-year-old, but as he conquers his fears and demons, and learns from his mistakes, he grows into an ever more daring, confident and brilliant saboteur. His missions become more dangerous; he risks more to do more damage.

The focus of “Max Manus” is Norway. It is only through newspaper headlines and other little snippets that we learn about the progression of World War II in the rest of the world. Although this seemed odd at first, it properly reflects Manus’s viewpoint and keeps the film centered.

Where and how to end a biographical film is always problematic. The conclusion of “Max Manus,” soon after Hitler’s death, loses steam and melts away. After the tension of war, peace seems unremarkable to Manus and well as the viewers.

The performances are all first-rate. The settings recapture the past. The writing sounds authentic. It’s unfortunate that the writer, Thomas Nordseth-Tiller, died at age 28 soon after the film’s completion and before it won six Amanda awards (Norwegian Oscars).

“Max Manus” has been successfully shown at several U.S. and international film festivals, and will be shown at various theaters. It does not yet have a U.S. distributor. It definitely should.

(c)Emily S. Mendel 2011 All Rights Reserved


San Francisco ,
Emily S. Mendel, a writer and photographer, has been a regular contributor to since 2006, where she reviews theater, art, film, television and destinations. Ending her 30-year law practice has given Ms. Mendel the time to indulge in her love of travel and the arts, and to serve as the theater reviewer for