World War II has been one of the most talked about events in human history. The event has also been the source of countless stories, including books, TV series, movies, and video games. The setting is rich with recorded history, but there are also so many unknowns that it becomes easy in a setting that can contain a lot of speculation. There are so many possibilities and blank spaces in history that it is an opportunity hard to pass on. This is the review of Burial, a film that takes the chance to fill one of those unknown spaces.
Burial is a film written and directed by Ben Parker, and stars Charlotte Vega, Tom Felton, Barry Ward, Daniel Renton Skinner, and Bill Milner. The film tells the story of a group of Soviet soldiers who are put on a very secretive mission. They need to transport cargo from the ruins of Berlin to Moscow, to be presented in front of Stalin himself. The mysterious package is, of course, none other than the body of Adolf Hitler after having committed suicide in his bunker. The problem is that the soviets are not the only ones after the tyrant’s body.
Burial starts a film that seems to be grounded in reality and whose intentions are only to speculate about a very fuzzy moment in history. When Hitler died, the Soviets found his body burned, and he was only able to be identified by his dental records. For more than 10 years, the Soviets hid the proof that Hitler was absolutely dead. Which, of course, generated a lot of speculation and conspiracy theories about how Hitler was alive and had escaped judgment at the end of the war.
Even now, what happened to Hitler’s body remains not a mystery, but more of a fuzzy spot in history. Parker takes the chance to add a story of his own making to this open space created by history. To see a group of soldiers guarding the body of Hitler to deliver it to Stalin sounds pretty cool. It sounds more than anything like a reverse take on Saving Private Ryan. However, Burial doesn’t have the character work that made the Ryan soldiers so charming, and it also doesn’t have the propulsive force to make the film exciting.
After a nice setup is done in the first act of the film, the second act stops almost completely. The journey the soldiers were supposed to literally stop, and then the movie becomes a one-location type of film. It makes the movie feel small, and the stakes even smaller. The fact that the soldiers don’t understand the reason they must protect Hitler’s body also becomes frustrating. They don’t need to know with certainty, but at least some more speculation on why they are risking their lives would have been appreciated.
So, while the premise could have lent itself to a really amazing road trip through Europe right at the end of the war, it ends up becoming more of a siege movie. The characters stay basically in just one place for most of it. Of course, this is surely a limitation on the budget. You can feel that Burial has bigger aspirations, but it doesn’t have the necessary resources to get there. The battles feel somewhat lackluster, and the inclusion of some supernatural elements also distracts you from its limitations.
Visually, Parker does some very cool stuff at the beginning of the film. The reconstruction of war-torn Berlin looks pretty great, and there are some really cool shots in that first act. However, when the journey stops, so do the amazing visuals, and the scale of the images scales down the same way the story does. The movie is still entertaining, but you can feel this could have been so much more intense and spectacular with a bit more budget.
Charlotte Vega does a great job as the protagonist of the movie. She has a commanding presence, but the character work is very subdued, maybe a bit too much. It isn’t easy to care for these characters because they never really get you to get close. The team of soldiers feels very underwritten. There are a couple of scenes where the characters interact, but for most of the movie, the team-building effort is left out in favor of a more standard relationship.
The story also uses a sort of frame device that is meant to serve as some sort of political statement or social commentary. This is something many films feel they have the need to do, and sometimes when done effectively, it comes across as something powerful that needs to be in the movie no matter what. Here, the framing device feels more like an afterthought. The message is there, but it feels too tacked on, instead of feeling like an organic part of the story.
Burial has a really amazing premise, but the movie never manages to achieve its full potential. Nevertheless, the film is worth a watch if you’re a fan of WWI movies, or maybe you are also interested in these blurry parts of history. There is a real conversation to be had here after watching the movie, and it might even inspire you to learn more about the real history of the war and what really happened at this precise moment of the conflict.