Just in time for the season of WOLFENSTEIN: THE NEW COLOSSUS, I have managed to see HHhH (aka: THE MAN WITH THE IRON HEART)
This movie, by 41 year old French director Cedric Jimenez, has strong visuals - when it wants to have strong visuals, and good narrative - when it wants to have a good narrative.
Overall, however, I feel this film is a bit messy. Basically the lead character, real life SS intelligence commander Reinhard Heydrich, is written, portrayed, and even shot with the veneer of a Saturday Morning Cartoon villain. This energy of ultimate evil, which I suppose was one of the main pieces of Jimenez’s objective, would be reasonable if it wasn’t set to such a high level. If you’ve played a game like ASSASSIN’S CREED 3 and found it mildly humorous that your character seemed to be part of every touchstone of early American history, then this film will have you in stitches.
This film would have you believe that this single person was not only responsible for finding out who the communists were in Berlin. It depicts him personally kicking down doors (as well as some people down a flight of stairs) and beating up communists with his bare fists.
According to this film, Heydrich also pushed for the development of “advanced technology” to be used in concentration camps, but this is not before he invented the concept of concentration camps himself!
Who was at the forefront of the Night of the Long Knives? Who wiped out the brownshirts? None other than Reinhard Heydrich himself on both and all accounts! The magnitude of Heydrich’s evil power is so great that not even his prominent victims are given any sense of context or identity. Ernst Rohm is executed personally by Heydrich - in a manner that would leave Rohm in total anonymity if you weren’t using additional materials to help you.
And after all this Reinhard the Terrible still has time to print - in beautiful Germanic font - reams upon reams of census data revealing each and every Jew in all the lands controlled by Germany, while indulging in piano lessons with his child, screwing his wife (and his mistress!), while also having fencing matches where his goal appears to be to actually skewer his opponents! The level of maniacal evil ascribed to this one person creates the, perhaps unintended, impression that Nazi party did not so much as make him evil, as it merely allowed the exponential expansion of evil Heydrich already possessed as the devil incarnate.
Indeed, figures like Heinrich Himmler are reduced to sitting at dinners admiring “the man with the iron heart”. Adolf Hitler himself only makes a brief cameo - as a photograph held up during a victory parade!
This has the strange effect as to make it seem like Heydrich, and not Hitler, was the leader of the Nazi party. To wit, there is even a sequence where Heydrich addresses the annexed Czech republic, and everyone in the assembly gives Heydrich the raised arm salute as he walks by, before he returns it himself, just before giving a speech addressed to the entire nation of Czechs.
Now, I’m not a Nazi apologist, and I’m sure both the party and Heydrich were really bad. But after an hour into this film, I was laughing at the ridiculous level of satanic egomania on display. So much so that it was no longer possible to take this film seriously. Which is somewhat sad as I had hopes about the subject matter being portrayed with dexterity by a film maker of Jimenez’s experience.
The film also has issues with tempo and pacing, as well as some strange directorial decisions. The first 40 or so minutes is VERY rushed (Heydrich basically climbs the ladder from Nazi party applicant to SS commander in all of 3 minutes), yet the director chooses to portray in full the parachuting of Czech resistance fighters (from flight, to buzzer, to airdrop, to ground travel), when the only purpose of this scene is so that an SS underling can interrupt a fencing match of Herr Heydrich (as he is about to grind yet another fencing competitor to heel) just to inform him that “we’ve spotted signs of Czech resistance fighters arriving by parachute”.
Also, the director seemed to have an unhealthy appetite for sex scenes, scenes set in whorehouses, and other similar debauchery. There is even a lingering one-shot similar in style, though thankfully shorter in length, to the one Alfonso Cuaron used in the film CHILDREN OF MEN, except this one happens in a prostitution den. I got the impression that some of this time could have been traded to allow for Heydrich’s character to have more dynamism in full imagery, rather than rushing his development to the point of comedic effect.
Again, these decisions all have a price. The worst offender is while Skeletor, I mean Heydrich, was supposedly super evil to everybody on planet Earth, it wasn’t clear by the film’s own narrative how the Czechs were maligned by this guy to lead a group of them to risk their lives beneath the All-Seeying Eyes of Heydrich in the Police State of Reinhard to try and assassinate him.
Definitely a film that could have been done better. That said, wide scenes, parade sequences, and atmospheric sequences are very good - among the best I have seen recently. When the film allows itself to breathe, everything looks very immersive and you get a strong sense of the era. So in that way, the film is very good and tends to put you in a reflective mood.
However, there is also the sense that some artistic licence (to trim details of Heydrich’s life off to have easier use of running time) as well as changing some of the aforementioned decisions, might have resulted in a film we can think about in more insightful terms than what is currently presented.