WWII Film Guide: Resistance & Special Ops

*Last Updated 1/1/2024
*This post is part of a film guide on World War II. Click here for the main page
*For more context on the process behind this guide, click here for an introduction

Introduction: A significant number of World War II stories take place in the grey zone between the home front and the war front. These aren’t front line soldiers engaging with the enemies best defenses or soldiers on patrol preserving the homeland and home life. These are the stories of the warriors who fight from the shadows. These are the stories of people who resist through secret assaults, sabotage, deception, double-cross, assassination, disinformation, and the like. The civilian versions of these stories often play out like mafia films with rings of resistance fighters (thugs) being led by bosses and also engaging in underground market crimes along the way...all for the cause of course. The military special operation stories, often mixed up with civilian resistance stories, often play out like a mix between an action and espionage film. A key question at the base of this genre is this: How can you actively fight in a war other than in direct combat? There are a lot of fascinating stories to be told here - often more fascinating, layered, and exciting than those directly about battles.

In order to get you to the thing most of you came for, "What's the best in this genre? I've put my recommendations for you below. Following that, if you'd like to learn more about the 22 films in this section, then you can find each film in this category organized by release date (oldest to newest) with a brief commentary, a link to its IMDB page, and my grade.

The Top Shelf: Best in this category belongs to...
  • Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (2005): The best entry in this entire genre has nothing to do with guns or military tactics. The best overall film about resistance is 2005's Sophie Scholl: The Final Days. It's a lean two hour film that details the final days of Sophie Scholl, a young woman part of an anti-Nazi resistance (non-violent) within Germany. It's World War II's A Man for All Seasons, but simplified and streamlined. The film nobly captures the courage and conscience behind Sophie's resistance and how when done righteously, those who have compromised look away in shame, but are condemned in soul. It's a beautiful film.

The Deep Dive: For those wanting a broader and richer journey...
  • Real Life Operations - The Great Raid (2005) / Anthropoid (2016) / The 12th Man (2017): If you are looking for the best film that portrays a real life special operation, then check out 2016's Anthropoid or 2005's The Great Raid. Anthropoid methodically covers the Czech resistance's operation to assassinate General Heydrich and the Nazi reprisals that followed and The Great Raid does a fantastic job weaving the story of the underground Philippine resistance with a Ranger rescue of 500 POWS. If you want to feel optimistic about humanity, then watch 2017's The 12th Man about a special operation gone wrong, but salvaged by the good of the local people in great. danger. 
  • Organized French Resistance - Army of Shadows (1969) / Army of Crime (2009): his category is blessed with several solid entries telling a wide spectrum of stories from the war. For a great education on the emergence and organization of the French resistance, watch a doubleheader of Army of Crime and Army of Shadows. Together they are the most realistic and educational films you'll find in this category.
  • Resistance Within Germany - Valkyrie (2008) / 13 Minutes (2015): To pair with the category best Sophie Scholl, watch the workmanlike Valkyrie for an engaging take on a real plot on Hitler's life within the German/Nazi leadership or the disarmingly insightful 13 Minutes that chronicles how an ordinary German man became so fed up with the changes he saw in Germany it led him to try and take the Fuhrer's life. 

Individual Film Commentary (Oldest to Newest)
  • A+ = All-time Classic
  • A   = Excellent Film
  • A-  = Excellent Film, but some minor faults
  • B+ = Very Good film
  • B   = Good Film
  • B-  = Good Film, but some key faults
  • C+ = Average with some redeeming qualities, but major faults
  • C   = Mediocre Film
  • C-  = Poor Film
  • D+ = Bad Film
  • I don't usually rate anything lower

1. Back to Bataan (1945) IMDB
- Released just weeks before end of the Japanese campaign in World War II, this film attempts to cover the Filipino resistance after the Battle of Bataan as organized by an American commander named Madden, played by John Wayne in his usual manner. The story moves quickly and at just an hour and 35 minutes it doesn't outstay its welcome thankfully. The film shows some sabotage, ambushes, and behind the scenes coordination as the Japanese struggle to respond to the guerilla warfare. The screenplay here is smarter than I expected and plays around with the themes of colonialism, nationalism, and the moral tradeoffs of resistance. The film concludes with the guerrillas playing a role in holding a key road that could be used to reinforce Japanese resistance to freshly arrived American invaders. It's a decent ending to a decent film - a minor miracle considering the rapidly changing real world events going on as they were filming it. GRADE: B-

2. The Guns of Navarone (1961) IMDB
- A large German artillery gun (the guns of Navarone!) is protected on a fortress island and threatens a key naval passage around Greece. In order for the Allies to effect a rescue armada for some trapped Allied soldiers in the area, a team must infiltrate the island and take out the guns. The team is led by Gregory Peck (because of some nonsense about his ability to scale a cliff that actually plays very little role in the grand scheme of things) and filled out by a great cast. This is one of those "mixed" films where the film clearly has ambitions to be smart, layered with crisscrossing allegiances, and about something more than just explosions, but it doesn't always execute those ambitions well and the film can drag quite a bit through long stretches. It's good, but doesn't quite live up to the hype I'd read going into it. GRADE: B-

3. The Heroes of Telemark (1965) IMDB
- Smuggled information from a Nazi heavy water testing facility in Norway indicates that the Germans might be ahead of the Allies in producing an atomic bomb. The Allies decide that the facility must be destroyed in order to slow down German development. To do this, it's determined that working with British SOE trained Norwegian resistance fighters is the best method. The setup of characters and settings in the Norwegian town is a bit clunky. It's also a bit odd that Dr. Pederson, played by Kirk Douglas, is also a gung-ho soldier type as well as a doctor in physics. He immediately picks up a gun, helps detour ship mines, parachutes, and skis without batting an eye. It's never quite explained why he's so good at all that when he's a doctor in physics.

About midway through the film it finally gets engaging. There's a really nice ten to fifteen minute sequence, largely in silence, of a sabotage raid on the heavy water facility. The commitment to location shooting here really gives the sequence a unique and distinctive feel. The cinematography, longer takes with a lot of depth and width showing off the landscape and facility, gives a genuine feeling of how a stealthy raid could be conducted. This is the standout sequence of the film. Following the raid, the commandos disperse as the Nazis search for them and we get a nice ski chase sequence as well. After the Germans bring the facility back up to code, the Allies call in a bombing raid that the local resistance is certain will kill much of the local town as well. When that bombing doesn't destroy the facility, the resistance must resort to taking out the hydro ferry carrying the heavy water. This is another scene reminiscent of the silent raid on the facility, but it never quite connects like that one. The film ends with a bit of a manufactured wimper in my opinion. The second half of the film is superior to the first, but in the end it's just pretty good. See it for the beautiful winter locations and the mid film sabotage scene. GRADE: C+ 

4. The Train (1965) IMDB
- It's 1944 and as the Allies get a foothold in France the Germans begin evacuating as much valuables by train as they can. French train workers, secretly part of the resistance, get word that the Germans are evacuating a large collection of cultural art. Burt Lancaster heads up the resistance efforts here and Paul Scofield plays the central Nazi antagonist looking to stop the resistance. The major defining feature of the film is the focus on the trains - much of it very practically filmed with strong performances. Personally, I struggled with this film - it's heart is in the right place and it works hard to be practical and grounded. Unfortunately, all these efforts amounted to an experience I found interesting but never fully engaging. The film moves at a pretty slow pace and feels about 20-30 minutes too long. To my mind, it's also not even the best WWII film centered around trains to come out in 1965 - as Von Ryan's Express is smarter and more exciting in my book. If you are a train aficionado then you'll likely enjoy this more than I did. GRADE: B-

5. The Devil’s Brigade (1968) IMDB
- Coming out a few months after the 1967 hit The Dirty Dozen, this film got lost in its wake. It's not hard to see why, they both feature a story of getting no good soldiers trained up to become a force for special missions. This film is loosely based on the true story of the Devil's Brigade which is seen as the predecessor to American special force units like the Green Berets. The difference in cast likability between this film and The Dirty Dozen is noticeable immediately. At least The Dirty Dozen exuded charisma and tried to get you to like their horrible characters. In a real strike against the film, most of the soldiers, apart from Willian Holden's commander, in The Devil's Brigade are just not that likeable or interesting. 

That being said, it doesn't mean the film can't be passable as mostly mindless entertainment for a couple of hours and that's just what it is - especially in its action-centered last half. The story is basic (our unit can do it!) and not overly original, but it does manage to hit the right story notes when it must and closes out the film with a strong 30 minute war sequence that is worth the watch alone. GRADE: C+

6. Army of Shadows (1969) IMDB
- I have to be honest, I didn't quite "get" this film at first. I think it took about 20-25 minutes or so before I even caught my bearings on what was going on and why. Once I did however, things began to connect and I settled in. Even for someone like me, I can sometime be surprised by the style of a film and this is one of those films where they don't really exposit in the beginning, they prefer to kind of leave you dangling to put things together over time.

In addition to that style, the plot of the film is more about vignettes or sequences, rather than one linear plot. So rather than the story of a particular cell in the French resistance from birth to death, we get dropped into a snapshot of one cell and then have to piece things together. Anchoring the film is a strong performance from Lino Ventura as the central character and unifier of the story strands. Along the journey we get a nice education on the dangers, paranoia, and operations of being caught up in the resistance. Thanks to the shooting style and writing, this is likely the most grounded and realistic (along with 2009's Army of Crime) depiction of the French resistance put on film. If this commentary seems a bit scattershot, it's because I'm not really sure how to write about it. I found myself both loving and put off by how the story unfolded and the grounded direction/cinematography - which can give a very realistic feel to it or just make things drag out more than they should. Still, this is really good stuff that is worth a watch if you enjoy resistance style films. GRADE: B+

7. Too Late the Hero (1970) IMDB
- Set on an unnamed Pacific island, a small squad of British troops (highlighted by a salty Michael Caine performance) are led by an American officer (played by Cliff Robertson) behind enemy lines into the jungle. Their goal is to take out a Japanese radar site before it can spot a U.S. ship convoy and notify Japanese reinforcements. The squad is a motley crew who struggle through the jungle with inept leadership and complaining soldiers all the way. When the group arrives at the radar site, the commander calls an audible and causes a rift with the American officer. The Japanese pursue the remaining Allied soldiers as they attempt to make it back to their base. The overall tone of the story is cynical and the subtext is the experience of ineptness, futility, meaninglessness of the Vietnam War (which was still raging at the time of filming). It’s watchable stuff with a story that manage to keep attention, especially the ending stretch. However the production scale feels small in a distracting way, the story feels unnecessarily bloated at 2 hours and 13 minutes, and there’s nothing here that's better than "alright". There's ultimately nothing you can’t find better in other films of this type. GRADE: C

8. Force 10 from Navarone (1978) IMDB
- This official sequel to The Guns of Navarone has very little to do with the events of the original film -though it does share the same penchant for spending much of the running time in a labyrinth of various resistance and partisan groups ending with blowing something up. The film begins with another force for a special operation being assembled and dropped behind enemy lines on a secret mission in Yugoslavia. From here the group is harassed by German forces, then double-turned by a group they thought were Allied resistance, then finally connected with the resistance overseeing the bridge they are ultimately meant to bomb and deny to the German forces, then their objective leads them back to the German camp, then they fail because someone on their resistance is actually German, so then back to a German ammo dump, then on to their actual mission at the dam/bridge. As you can tell, it's quite plot heavy and convoluted. These sequences aren't bad by themselves but they don't feature great action and rely heavily on "just in time" help from others or random events out of their control to give them new opportunities. Our main characters do seem to be advancing mostly on luck or at times new obstacles are created by their own stupidity (like badly tying up prisoners or leaving guns on them) - which makes the whole thing feel...well just not as fun as it should be I suppose. The final act dam and bridge destruction is decent, but not enough to make the rather mediocre offerings two hours previous worth it. GRADE: C

9. Fat Man and Little Boy (1989) IMDB
- With the director behind epics like The Mission and the The Killing Fields combined with a starring role for Paul Newman telling the story of the Manhattan Project, I was pretty excited about this film on paper. Unfortunately, it's a drab and unengaging telling of the production of the first atom bomb. At least there's some discussion of the ethics of the bomb, but it's all background chatter that never really engages. What a wasted opportunity. GRADE: C-

10. The Great Raid (2005) IMDB
- After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor crippled the U.S. Navy, the Japanese were able to invade U.S. held islands like the Philippines without worry of a naval counterattack. This left the U.S. forcers and their allies on the Philippines essentially cut off. The Japanese captured many prisoners, many of whom died on the way to camps (the infamous Bataan Death March) or in the camps. As the war came neared a close in the 1944, the U.S. invaded the southern Philippines. U.S. intelligence discovers a POW camp of nearly 500 men just 30 miles from their front lines, but believe there's s strong chance the Japanese will kill the prisoners before they can liberate the camp. A group of U.S. rangers are assembled to conduct a raid on the camp and bring back the POWs.

The film largely follows three groups: the experience of the prisoners in camp, the rangers making their way for the raid, and the local resistance helping the prisoners as best they can. The story, largely adapted from two different novels, combined with strong production values does a nice job giving an overview of ways the resistance worked and detailing the plans, journey, and adaptations necessary for the raid. While feeling very literary (characters get fleshed out more than usual), the pace of the film does suffer a bit. The rangers set out in the first act of the film and take about an hour and a half it seems to get to the raid. 

Thankfully, the titular raid really does deliver. Thanks to the runtime devoting to the setup, we are clear on the strategy and geography of the battle. The battle provides suspense, clear visuals, and a genuine sense of intensity. In all, this is one of the best 'start to finish' films portraying a real American special forces operation. It has some dry parts, but is a workmanlike product that ultimately delivers. GRADE: B

11. Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (2005) IMDB
- Did the entire country of Germany join in the Nazi party or look the other way? We know that the targets of German occupation and persecution fought back, but did the ordinary German? This film tells the story of the last days of 21 year old Sophie Scholl, a German citizen who decided to resist. Sophie, along with her brother Hans and a few other members, formed the non-violent resistance group known as the White Rose. Comprised of well-educated members, the White Rose wrote pamphlets and fliers looking to expose the German governments war crimes and counter their propaganda.

In a bold move, Sophie and her brother Hans go to Munich University to secretly distribute their most recent pamphlet. In an excruciatingly suspenseful sequence, the two place the pamphlets around the school while class is in session. Unfortunately, a maintenance man observes the two as they finish. They are taken into custody and questioned by the Gestapo. The strength and moral resistance during their questioning is not displayed heroically or as some kind of superhuman feat. What makes these sequences and the whole film really, so special to me, is the simple moral righteousness that underlies their commitment. Much of the film takes place in these interrogations and they were wise to set it here. In the end, Sophie and her brother are charged and stand trial for treason. The trial, rushed into court, is a sham and rather than giving us a courtroom triumph, the film gives us grace under fire. Sophie and her brother are condemned, but always remain courageous and confident in their goodness. The moral goodness isn't braggadocios or arrogant - it's a grace that sees the moral situation clearly and has given up caring what happens to their destiny. You can sense this in two particular quotes from Sophie and Hans respectively, "[to the court] You will soon be standing where we stand now." and "[to the court] If you and Hitler weren't afraid of our opinion, we wouldn't be here."

Coming from a Lutheran background, the film does well to imagine Sophie in the vein of Martin Luther - driven by her religious convictions against a system that demands she deny them. In a revealing moment her police interrogator asks, "Why do you risk so much for false ideas, young as you are?" Sophie responds, "Because of my conscience." This film swims in the same vein as A Man For All Seasons and while not being as good as that film, illustrates well the soul that refuses to "go along" - that refuses to not say what her conscience demands. At the heart of "resistance" films is the conflict - will you compromise your conscience and go along with the others for the sake of your life, or will you fight back? This is one of my favorite stories of a German who decided to fight back. GRADE: A-

12. Black Book (2006) IMDB
- A story of Dutch resistance against the Nazi's in the Netherlands - this film starts out great, has some strong moments, but ultimately suffers from trying to be and do far too much. After Rachel, the daughter of a rich Jewish family in the Netherlands, is flushed out of her hiding spot she connects with members of the Dutch resistance. She is eventually betrayed, sees her family murdered, and yet manages to survive. To take out revenge she joins the Dutch resistance and is quickly used to infiltrate the Gestapo headquarters through a romantic relationship with the top Nazi. 

There are a lot of twists, betrayals, and miscommunications along the way and some of them really work well and others...just feel superfluous, convoluted, and unnecessary. The story is directed by Paul Verhoeven and you can tell he revels in the violence and sex - something that starts out as an interesting aspect of the film but like the plot ultimately becomes unnecessary. When I first saw the film as a young adult I was pretty into it, but it hasn't held up as well for me on a repeated viewing. See it for some strong moments, especially the sad and rarely explored tragedy of the revenge taken out on female Nazi collaborators, but know that the film ends up being too interested in becoming an R-rated, sex filled, unpredictable, thriller that it loses sight of the center of its story. GRADE: C+

13. Valkyrie (2008) IMDB
- Dramatizing one of the more famous inside plots on Hitler's life, director Bryan Singer turns in an enjoyable suspense thriller that engages the viewer while providing also providing some insight for audiences on a complex real life plot assassination plot. After an injury sustained during the North African campaign, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (yes that's a real name) is placed on staff in Berlin alongside a high-ranking Nazi official already engaged in conspiracy plots. Tom Cruise plays Colonel Claus and despite his decent performance and clear commitment to the role - the character is a bit boring and stiff. That can be said for much of the great cast here - there more like boring pawns in a story that's far more interesting than they are. I liked learning the details and complications of the plot and there's some decently staged suspense scenes here, but the film still never feels like it comes together to be more than engaging and interesting. GRADE: B-

14. Flame and Citron (2008) IMDB
- The story of two assassins, one nicknamed Flame and the other Citron, in the Danish resistance. Inspired by true accounts, the two fighters initially assassinate just Danish Nazis, but are soon tasked by their leader, taking orders from the British, to expand to high-ranking German officials. Things get even more complicated when Flame and Citron believe their leader is playing them and getting them to kill his own enemies and not Nazis. Stylistically, this film owes a lot to Road to Perdition and the twists and turns the plot takes plays out much like a mafia and gangster story where everyone seems to have more than one loyalty and turf wars are the name of the game. It’s not surprising since many in the resistance were genuinely parts of organized crime. This is a decent film that offers an introduction into the often, necessarily sometimes and purposefully sometimes, grey moral zones those in the resistance were forced to operate. GRADE: B

15. Army of Crime (2009) IMDB
- Germany has occupied Paris and begun harassing Jews, identifying communists, and responding to any resistance with great force. This French film's first act introduces us to a wide variety of characters who all suffer as a result of the occupation and find themselves looking to respond. At first, isolated acts of resistance are taken: propaganda leaflets, killing German soldiers, taking on new names to hide, etc.  Enter the Armenian poet and communist Missak Manouchian. He is arrested and taken away to a camp until he, to his deep shame, signs a paper saying he is not a communist. He returns to Paris, reunites with his wife, and is called upon to join a more systematic and organized resistance force - all the isolated partisans are. As each considers a more organized role, they each struggle with their own ethic. Missak for instance refuses to kill and another partisan remarks, "A partisan fights for life. For life, against those fighting for death. And Olga, is my life...We kill people, but we're on the side of life."

The team that is assembled is known as the Manouchian group. The film does a pretty good job of showing how the Manouchian network worked, took out targets (some jobs failed and some jobs successful), and how their ethics were challenged along the way. The group is ultimately unraveled with a tragic betrayal and old fashioned police work. Here again, there's insight into the spectrum of ways the French people informed on their own, investigated their own, and took up the charge against Resistance fighters. Why? Well, some were just afraid of the Germans and didn't want to suffer or get left out of power. However, it's clear that others didn't care for those who often made up the Resistance cells: immigrants, Jews, and communists. German propaganda labeled these groups an "Army of Crime" you see - they aren't true patriots. True patriots go about their day and collaborate. It's pretty sad stuff. Similar to 1969's Army of Shadows, this is great stuff, lots to learn and enjoy here, but I still give this just a B+. I wouldn't put this film in the "A" range for me because I never found myself wrapped up in the story or greatly moved by a sequence or key idea - this is probably the best "educational" film about how Parisian resistance networks developed out of Jewish, immigrant, and communist groups, how they operated, and how they were taken out. GRADE: B+

16. The Monuments Men (2014) IMDB
- Are there rules in war? If you were to ask 100 people they would probably come up with slightly different answers, but I think most would agree on not actively targeting civilians and taking care of prisoners as best as possible. One of the grey areas we don't really think about it how cultural landmarks and achievements should be treated in war. If you want to occupy a town, but many of the buildings are historic or filled with irreplaceable art and cultural objects, do you have a moral duty to protect them? If you occupy the town at great cost to your army, do you have a moral duty to not plunder the art? These questions were put into play during World War II where the Axis powers occupied many countries and cities loaded with cultural artifacts. While the city of Paris itself was spared by the Germans when they pulled out, the Nazis were able to loot much of its treasures. This film argues that while people can rebuild streets and houses, culture is irreplaceable and it's worth saving at cost. 

That's the concept behind the group known as "The Monuments" a real life section of the American Army whose job it was to protect as many cultural treasures as the war would allow. This film looks to tell the story of that group. An all-star cast, that includes Billy Murray, Matt Damon, John Goodman is headed by George Clooney, make their way into Europe and spread throughout the continent just at the edges of the Allied advances to secure as much art as possible. The basic idea for this movie is great. but the execution is a real mixed bag. The cast pays dividends as they are enjoyable to watch and mostly play things light, but they really aren't given a ton to do here. The film has lots of little side stories, moments, and tone changes that never feel like they add up to something cohesive or meaningful. At one point it can be light and breezy, the next serious, and the next super broad and preachy. The central conceit of the film that it's worth risking lives over art is never really challenged thematically - which is a lost opportunity. It's a film that has some pleasures, but I think it's better to just explore some of the real history behind the film. GRADE: C+

17. Warsaw '44 (2014) IMDB
- In most American tellings of World War II, we rarely make time and room for the Polish aspect of the war - unless it is about Hitler's invasion to start the war or from the Holocaust angle. Poland, trapped between Germany to the west and Russia to the east was, due to many circumstances, essentially allowed to suffer on its own for over five years at the hands of the Germans between 1939-1945. One of the stories often not told is that the largest underground resistance movement/uprising in all of World War II took place in Warsaw, Poland against the German occupiers in August of 1944 as the Russians front was nearing.  Wikipedia reports that nearly 50,000 participated in the uprising on the Polish side and the German side. Casualty reports are shocking with reports that over 16,000 resistance members died and somewhere between 150,000 and 200,000 civilians. To put that into perspective, about 111,000 American soldiers died in the entire Pacific campaign. Additionally, a quarter of the cities buildings were destroyed in the fighting. After the uprising was put down, the Germans leveled another 35% of the city. By the end of the war, over 85% of the city was leveled. 

I go through all of these details because I was hoping this Polish film, released on the 70th anniversary of the uprising, would do justice to such a monumental and tragic episode of the war. Unfortunately, this isn't the case. The first clue should have come in the "Hollywood" look for all the young stars. You know how television shows about any young adult event will feature people who all have that unique Hollywood starlet look - even those meant to be nerds and anti-social are really just great looking people with unfashionable glasses? That's kind of what's going on here too. Coupled with a few modern Zach Snyder like slow motion flourishes (set to anachronistic pop music no less) and this stylistic choice became really off-putting for me. The first foray into the uprising follows a group of youths (all fashionable, great looking, and looking for love) naively join the resistance. Eventually their naivete is punctured, but we unfortunately get to witness the uprising from their perspective - which is greatly limited. I would have loved for a different angle into this event that would have allowed for a better understanding of the geography of the uprising, the different people in charge, the difficult strategic and ethical decisions, etc. Instead, we mostly get a group of young people narrowed eventually to a young couple trying to survive the German counterstrike, escape the city, and find love. That's a valid story - I just think the story and style choices here are a bit narrow and shallow given the real life historical context and stakes. GRADE: C-

18. 13 Minutes (2015) IMDB
- This is a sneaky film. The trailer sells the exciting story of an attempt on Hitler's life. This story is essentially told in the first 10 minutes of the film and our main character, Georg Elser, is captured quickly by the Nazi authorities. He is immediately questioned by high ranking Nazi leadership who want to know his accomplices and party. This is where we discover the surprise bait and switch of this film - come for the exciting assassination angle, but instead get an engaging and educative chronicle of how Germany slowly changed as Hitler came to power. As Georg shares his story during his interrogations, we flashback to key life moments that not only show how he came to be a bomber, but how his local German town slowly succumbed to anti-Semitism, to the militarism and authority of the Nazi party (welcomed by the prosperity and pride brought to the town), and ultimately the blind fanaticism that can no longer recognize the moral spiral that has happened as a result.

Even more surprising is the psychological insight not just in how a small German town could succumb to the change, but also at the power dynamics at play within the Nazi hierarchy in charge of the investigation. As Georg tells the truth that he acted alone, he bewilders a the leadership that believes he must have had help. As they thoroughly check out his story, finding it accurate, they are pushed by an authority close to Hitler that he wants the names of those who inspired Georg. You can see in this dynamic that the leaders involved in the interrogation have glimmers of doubt after hearing Georg's story and the out of touch demand from Hitler that more must be involved. Arthur Nebe, a high ranking official involved in the interrogation, was later hung after he took part in a 1945 plot on Hitler's life - the one portrayed in 2008's Valkyrie. GRADE: B+

19. Anthropoid (2016) IMDB
- The title of the film gets its name from the real-life Operation Anthropoid - the mission to assassinate the high-ranking SS General Reinhard Heydrich in Czechoslovakia. The film begins with British trained resistance members, played by Jamie Dornan and Cillian Murphy, parachuting into Czechoslovakia and making contact with the local Czech resistance. After a while they make their mission clear to the resistance and there is...resistance. You see, Heydrich is certainly a dangerous and bloody man, the main architect behind the use of gas chambers for mass genocide of the Jews, and a worthy target of taking out. However, the blowback to Heydrich's assassination the Germans bring on the Czech people could be monumentally disproportionate. 

The film does a really good job at two important strands in this story: first, it explores the ethical conundrum of whether or not it is worth it to assassinate a deadly man even if it means many innocent people will die in the process; second, it methodically depicts the assassination attempt and the final stand by the resistance against the Nazi's with great care. This final standoff sequence comprises the final 20 minutes or so of the film and sees Heydrich’s assassins surrounded in a church, where they had been hiding. The first half is a strong action sequence as many of the assassins are on the upper floor and hold off the Germans for some time as they try different tactics to approach. In the end, the Germans reprisals saw nearly 13,000 people arrested, many tortured for information, and by some estimates some 5,000 killed. Was it worth it? It's a fascinating question. GRADE: B

20. Riphagen (2016) IMDB
-  This film is based on the true story of a Dutch man, Riphagen, who betrayed Jews in the Netherlands and exposed resistance groups. Like the changing authorities/enemies in real life (Dutch, Nazi's, traitors, Communists, competing justice committees), the films plot winds through the labyrinth of allegiances and resistances that made knowing the good buys from the bad guys nearly impossible. After the war, Vanhagen learns to complicate the search for justice by spreading lies and exploiting people who had relationships (for good, bad, or tangential) with Nazi's or traitors.   

Unfortunately, the viewing experience often comes across as convoluted and due to budget limitations, people talking in one room and then the next room and then the next. This is pretty good stuff, by the end you feel the frustration of never-ending lies and people not knowing for sure the truth. GRADE: C+ 

21. The 12th Man (2017) IMDB
- The story is simple - 12 Norwegians were trained by the British and sent back to Norway to conduct sabotage activities. When the Germans disrupt their plans, only one man of the twelve, Jan Baalsrud, is able to escape into the fjords. The film tracks the mostly true story of his challenge against two forces, nature and German, to make it into neutral Sweden. The choice to film in actual natural locations is a great boon to this film. The mountains, water, snow, ice - you can just feel the cold coming through the picture. I like how the film emphasizes that wherever this man goes he brings a tough ethical dilemma (helping the wanted man is human and also pro-Norway, but to do so is to risk your life and family) to the local people he encounters. Yet time and time again, they choose to help and shelter him. It's a bit like The Revenant but with a lot more decent human beings. GRADE: B+ 

22. A Hidden Life (2019) IMDB
- Franz Jagerstatter is a Austrian peasant - he works simply on a farm in a rural town. When the Germans arrive and are recruiting men to serve he has to make a tough decision. Franz refuses to join the fight. At first he is mostly ignored, but there is pressure from within the town, as he is seen as a coward, and skipping out on his duty. Eventually, the Nazis take him in and imprison him for treason. This is based on a true story.

That's the basic plot, but in the hands of a filmmaker like Terrance Malick, plot ultimately means very little - considering it moves at something less than a snail's pace. Malick's 1998 film The Thin Red Line made a dent into my Pacific Campaign and Top War Sequences lists, but I'd consider that film an outlier. You see, Malick is a polarizing director with a very distinct style that revels in what is sometimes called a "tone poem." Let's just say that I'm pretty strongly on the side that his style is overhyped, boring, and not what I look for in movies. This three hour film is noble, admirable, contains a beautiful little message, but is a slog to get through. Perhaps you'll feel differently. GRADE: C+