Why don't kids listen to their parents? If Friedrich (Riemelt) only heeded his father's advice, he'd be shoveling coal in a factory instead of attending one of Germany's elite academies on a full boxing scholarship. Of course, there's one small catch: It's 1942, and the Nazis plan to transform Friedrich—a simple, malleable soul—into an Aryan killing machine.
Dennis Gansel's heartfelt drama combines coming-of-age, boxing and Nazi genres to explore Napola (the National Political Education Institute), a group of boarding schools that trained future party leaders. Movies set during the Third Reich almost always concentrate on the regime's casualties, and Before the Fall follows this rule, except here the victims are the Germans themselves. Friedrich isn't gung ho about joining the party; in fact, he is apolitical. He rightly sees enrolling in Napola as a way to escape working-class drudgery. He just remains blind to the consequences—until he befriends Albrecht (Schilling), a slight, sensitive boy viewed with embarrassment by his cruel father, Heinrich (Dohnanyi), who happens to be one of the fhrer's top administrators. Albrecht questions his dad's morality as well as that of his countrymen, and in the end decides they are all culpable. The plot may be formulaic, but the film captures the scary seductiveness of fascism.—Raven Snook