Under Review: ‘Max Manus’


Trapped by the Germans in his own Oslo apartment, Max Manus escapes by jumping out his window. Surrounded by five guards in a hospital, he regains consciousness but is trussed up in a cast. In traction, while guards take a smoke outside his room, Max uses metal clippers to extricate himself. He kisses the nurse, slugs her in the face, and then painfully exits out yet another window into a waiting car below to avoid the impending SS interrogation.

Part Indiana Jones and part super-hero, the connivingly-brilliant Manus is an honest-to-goodness true-life Norwegian legend. Despite not having an education (he left school at age 14), job skills or training, Manus successfully sabotaged the German Wehrmacht during its occupation of Norway during WWII.

Within the first months this film debuted, over 25 percent of the Norwegian population viewed this epic movie about the uncannily lucky life of resistance hero, Max Manus. Norwegian King Harald V, who lived through WWII, attended the opening night with his family and wept.

After a stint as an independent freedom fighter in Finland fighting the Germans, Manus is trained as a Norwegian soldier to conduct sabotage missions behind enemy lines. He won’t always know who his enemy is and he won’t always be told what to do, but he works with his friends and his team becomes his family.

Not only is the suspense in this story riveting, the acting by Aksel Hennie, as Manus, is outstanding. He dives through a broad spectrum of psychological states, from the ridiculous as he escapes capture time after time, to deep shock and grief over the loss of his fellow saboteurs who, despite torture, refuse to give him up.

This film celebrates the invincible, resilient Norwegian spirit. Hiking through the snow-laden frontier of Norway to Sweden, capsizing in a frigid winter Oslo Harbor, surviving multiple gunshot wounds and traveling through enemy lines, Max Manus typifies the hardy, self-sufficient, persevering Norwegian personality.

Still one bit Ole (Scandinavians will know what I mean), Manus is also depicted with some amount of humor, naïveté, and humility. At one point, he accidentally shoots himself. In another, he is so overcome with the responsibility for the deaths of his friends that he chooses to take on the destruction of a gigantic German transport ship, the Donau, all by himself. He cannot bear to have one more life lost because of what he perceives may be his own ineptitude.

“Max Manus” also reflects what life was like for Norwegians under foreign oppression during WWII. There is a bit of tom foolery, as if the clandestine resistance movement is child’s play, a bit of romance and a bit of on-screen charisma.

Which brings to mind Nicolai Cleve Broch, who was nominated for an Amanda Award (Norwegian Oscar) for Best Supporting Actor. He plays Gregers Gram, Manus’s best friend and fellow resistance fighter. On screen the interplay of Hennie and Broch is magical. The viewer is caught up in their friendship and mesmerized by Broch’s charismatic trajectory. If he chooses to go international, this good-looking, provocative actor could easily compete with Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise.

The only negative comment I have to make about the film is related to the screenplay development of Tikken. Although married to a Norwegian diplomat stationed in Stockholm, she becomes Manus’s love interest. However, not mentioned (that I could tell from the subtitles) in the film is the fact that Tikken “coordinated the resistance in Norway from the British embassy in Stockholm” ( — a pivotal and courageous role oddly omitted in the script for this prominent character.

The bottom line for “Max Manus” is that it is mandatory viewing for anyone of Norwegian heritage. See it and be proud. For the rest of the world, it is an important part of human history that both reminds and warns us of the invincible, undefeatable spirit of any people under occupation.

Special Note: “Max Manus” opens at The Hollywood Theater, a non-profit theater in Portland, Ore., beginning Oct. 15. Advanced ticket purchase is advised.

Directors: Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandberga
Produced: Sveinung Golimo, John M. Jacobsen

Writer: Thomas Nordseth-Tiller
Cast: Aksel Hennie, Nicolai Cleve Broch, Agnes Kittelsen, Christian Rubeck, Ken Duken, Knut Joner, Viktoria Winge, and Petter Næss

Release Date: Sept. 3, 2010 (USA)

Country: Norway in consortium with Denmark and Germany

Language: Norwegian | English | German | Russian | Finnish [English subtitles]

Also Known As: Opération Sabotage

Filming Locations: Ardkinglas House, Cairndow, Argyll and Bute, Scotland, UK

Runtime: 118 min

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1 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. 1

    It sounds like a very insightful movie. Will they be checking for Norwegian ancestry at the door? Would it be possible for a Swede to cunningly slip into the back row? Will this fuel my desire for repatriation?

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