There have been a ton of movies made about World War II.
They began back in the early 1940s when the war was just beginning.
Casablanca (1942) is the prime example of America on the brink of war, as seen through Hollywood’s lens. It’s an enduring classic.
There were dozens of movies made during the war to entertain the troops overseas and bolster support on the home front.
Following the war, Hollywood unflinchingly told the story of the returning GIs in movies like The Best Years of Our Lives (1946).
In the years that followed, Hollywood returned again and again to tell stories about the greatest war ever fought by what became known as the greatest generation and their mission to preserve freedom and destroy the evil of fascism.
Movies like From Here to Eternity (1953), The Longest Day (1962), or Patton (1970), spanning decades. Growing up in the Fifties and Sixties I enjoyed these movies, but wondered whether they would eventually run their course as time marched on.
How long would Hollywood keep returning to this chapter of history, as monumental as it was. Would it eventually fade into the distance of our collective, cultural rearview mirror?
But then came more movies from acclaimed directors like Steven Spielberg, such as 1941 (1979), Empire of the Sun (1987), Schindler’s List (1993), and Saving Private Ryan (1998).
Terrence Malick made The Thin Red Line in 1998. Clint Eastwood made Flags of our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima in 2006.
More recently, we’ve seen movies like Churchill and Christopher Nolan’s epic Dunkirk both released in 2017.
The movies about the second World War have ranged from action flicks to romantic films to flat out comedies.
It would seem that we have gone to the proverbial well so many times that there isn’t a drop of creative water left to haul up.
But now comes Six Minutes to Midnight, a World War II spy thriller based on the barest thread of fact and truth.
The historical fact is that there actually was an exclusive girl’s boarding school called the Augusts Victoria College at Bexhill-on-Sea on the British seacoast in the 1930s where the daughters and granddaughters of the Nazi elite went for finishing. They wore badges that included both the Union Jack and the Nazi swastika.
That’s pretty much where the truth ends, and the preposterous spy drama stuff begins.
Without delving into story element spoilers, let’s just say that the movie begins like a pretty intriguing tale told in the style of Hitchcock. It lasts for about five minutes. But it’s all downhill from there.
The descent is rapid. Eddie Izzard is the new instructor at the school, populated by ardent, athletic young Arian women who study and swim and shout “Sieg Heil” when listening to radio broadcasts of Adolph Hitler in the final days leading up to the outbreak of the war.
They are a strange, but close-knit, cult-like group of young women under the steadfast tutelage of their German instructor (Carla Juri) and British headmistress (Judi Dench).
The casting of Izzard, Dench and Jim Broadbent offers some hope that this might the kind of quality entertainment suggested by the effectively produced movie trailer.
But that glimmer of hope is quickly snuffed out as the story gets underway.
The weak link here is the script, which was co-written by Eddie Izzard, Andy Goddard (the director) and Celyn Jones.
It’s a clunky stab at hammering out the kind of suspense film meant to pull the audience into the guessing game of who’s who and what’s what. Granted, there are some surprises, but none that really make a lot of sense.
Timing, and the whole concept of time, is a persistent problem in the movie.
At one point, Izzard’s character is running from the authorities along the beach, trying to get back to the boarding school as the sun goes down.
When morning arrives, we discover that he has stopped and fallen asleep on the beach only to be awakened by the approaching police (who have apparently been running in place the rest of the night) and continue the chase where it left off. It’s head-scratchingly bizarre, bordering on something from a Benny Hill or Monty Python comedy.
Another time-bending scene involves a pursuit with police in a car, following a bus being driven by Jim Broadbent’s character in which Izzard’s character has time to stop at a farmhouse, change clothes and have tea in the short amount of time that it takes the police to arrive, even though they were just a few minutes behind.
Improbability reigns in Six Minutes to Midnight.
Without going into too much detail, the climax involves the possible execution of 20 girls by someone holding a pistol with just seven bullets in it.
I guess the assumption is that the girls would line up and stand at attention so that several of them could be taken out at a time with a single bullet passing through multiple girls. It made no sense.
The scene also involves the girls creating a makeshift landing strip on the top of a cliff, at night, by forming two lines and holding up flares. The problem is the runway area they create is only about 12 feet wide, far short of the landing requirements for a plane big enough to whisk them all away; or any plane for that matter.
Six Minutes to Midnight isn’t suspenseful. It’s just silly.
It’s a reminder that all the star talent in the world can never make up for a bad script. Plain and simple.
If none of this dissuades you, and you insist on seeing this movie, know that you only have to endure it for an hour and 39 minutes. And that includes the loosely slapped together ending that never really attempts to wrap up all the craziness.
Six Minutes to Midnight is in select theaters and On Demand now.
Photos courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films Release.