“Pre-invested interest…pre-invested interest. What are you doing? Do you have pre-invested interest?” Those words were ghostly floating around in my head as I tried to throw myself into The Decent One, a new documentary from Vanessa Lapa.
I wouldn’t consider myself a history buff, or even a history dabbler. Honestly, I was never interested in history class nor could I memorize dates and names for crucial tests. If my high school teacher knew I was reviewing a documentary about Heinrich Himmler and his lost diary entries, he would probably get a good chuckle out of my pain.
But, as a film critic, you have to watch movies of all walks. And, every now and then, a historical movie comes along that engrosses me with a remarkable true story. This time last year, movie goers received a movie based on similar subject matter titled Nicky’s Family. You couldn’t pull me away from that fantastic documentary.
With The Decent One, Lapa has strung together distressing, static footage of Nazi troops living their lives and conducting their duties and paired it with narration reading off rare excerpts from Himmler’s hidden documents. While that may sound fascinating, it doesn’t hold up for more than thirty minutes – let alone an hour and a half.
The Decent One would make a nicely condensed short film. We still despise Himmler’s nasty work, but the evidence Lapa has collected humanizes him. We see him as a child, and watch him work his way up to SS-leader. But, simply watching black-and-white footage and listening to morose voiceovers is a trying endurance test. If Lapa wanted to make a feature out of this material, she needed to split this up into episodes and create a mini-series for TVO or PBS. This is something you don’t slug into a theatre.
But, what do I know? I’m a chowderhead who fought to get B’s on write-ups about the war of 1812. If you’re a history aficionado, you may find The Decent One to be a rewarding experience. But what I do know, however, is what makes a film transfixing, and The Decent One doesn’t process those qualities. There’s potential somewhere in a project like this. It just needs to be discovered like Heinrich Himmler’s documents were.