Picture This! Entertainment
Max Riemelt plays a disillusioned boxer in "Before the Fall."
BEFORE THE FALL (NAPOLA) — ** — Max Reimelt, Tom Schilling; in German, with English subtitles; not rated, probable R (violence, vulgarity, profanity, gore, brief nudity).

For better or worse, the Oscar-nominated 2004 drama "Downfall" has inspired a bunch of like-minded films trying to take a more humanistic look at Germany's Third Reich.

The latest is the World War II drama "Before the Fall (Napola)," which isn't nearly as effective as the earlier film. The plotting is too obvious, too contrived and too convenient.

The film follows Friedrich (Max Reimelt), a promising young boxer who is given the opportunity to attend one of the National Political Educational Institutes, or Napola — universities created to improve the minds and bodies of Germany's best and brightest.

But not everyone in Friedrich's family is thrilled. His father (Alexander Held) objects to Hitler's ideology and policies, and he forbids his son to attend. So Friedrich runs away from home, to the Napola.

A former member of the Hitler Youth, Friedrich finds a new home there and befriends another new student, the idealistic Albrecht (Tom Schilling), who is having a hard time living up to the standards of his father (Justus von Dohnanyi), a local Nazi leader.

"Before the Fall" also recalls the recent Swedish thriller "Evil," which is currently touring the art-house circuit as well. But unlike that film, there's a strong gay undercurrent here. (The film's U.S. distributor, Picture This! primarily deals in gay cinema.)

The real problem lies in its choice of main character is that, as played by Reimelt, Friedrich is not terribly sympathetic. And co-screenwriter/director Dennis Gansel can't really give us a reason to care about what happens to him, even after his eyes have been opened by some Nazi atrocities.

"Before the Fall (Napola)" is not rated but would probably receive an R for some strong war and athletic violence (including boxing, shootings and some explosive mayhem), crude references to bodily functions, scattered use of profanity, some gore, and brief flashes of male nudity. Running time: 110 minutes.

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