In the snowy expanse of the Norwegian countryside, a British officer and his gunner find themselves sharing a remote hunting cabin with three Luftwaffe pilots. With their planes shot down and the weather too extreme to risk venturing out, the five men have no choice but to try to co-exist peacefully.
The Germans seize control of the situation, initially taking the two Brits prisoner. A line is drawn in the cabin which the British are forbidden to cross. This childish rule draws attention to the familial nature of the situation – except in this ‘family’, disobedience would be punished by a Luger-shot to the head.
The two young soldiers on each side bicker like brothers about women, sports, and the war, while the officers – the rule-obsessed German and the debonair Brit – discuss the superiority of their nations’ cars.
There is an ever-present feeling of mistrust. The men constantly snipe at each other, unable to see past their countries’ rivalry. The young wounded German, forever reading and quoting from his copy of Mein Kampf, is convinced that they should just shoot their prisoners and be done with it.
Power shifts back and forth as the men steal each others’ guns. Questions are asked and stereotypes explored. ‘Hardly a sporting move,’ smarms the British officer as his stolen pistol is reclaimed. ‘This is war, not some stupid game at your country club,’ comes the reply.
Almost the entire film takes place within the cabin, and as such there is no reliance on fancy sets or impressive graphics. The film’s strength comes from its character development. We get to know all five men in great detail: Smith the uppity Scouse (Rupert Grint), Davenport the Biggles-type Wing Commander with the stiffest of upper-lips, Strunk the big German meat-head, Schopis the efficient rule-abider, and Schwartz the Führer fanatic.
There are some touching moments; none of the men wanting to skin the rabbit they catch, the drunken talent show, Strunk sharing his cartoon of the two officers dressed as an old married couple with Smith. But I cannot help but feel there was more to be explored here. The setup is not a new one and is based on a true story. It could have been grittier, the confrontations more believable, coming closer to an actual stand-off.
Instead, this is more a well-acted, heart-warming tale of enemies becoming friends in an unlikely scenario.