Tuesday, October 05, 2010

NYFF Review: The Robber

The Robber
Directed by Benjamin Heisenberg
Germany and Austria

            The pounding noises of base give volume to the close tracking shots in The Robber, as we watch our protagonist Johann Rettenberger, run at his fast pace. In many way, his running becomes a metaphor for the film. Each step is a beat, one foot closer to the end, and the scenery around him is changing, though the character stays the same. And Johann’s life story is certainly worth a cinematic experience, but possibly not in the construction that Benjamin Hiesenberg has constructed.
            Noticed that while I described running in that opening, the film is in fact titled The Robber, which is the other profession that Johann can’t resist. And thus is the premise for the true story that follows The Robber—a man who’s addicted to speed, and addicted to stealing. Mr. Hiesenberg obviously has a great hook for a genre piece, but he also decides to use it as somewhat of a deconstruction of the genre. And in doing so, he parses the elements a little too much, like a similar European film, Anton Corbjin’s The American, to the point where besides the act of watching the character go through the motions, there’s not much to chew on.
            What is certainly great though is Andreas Lust, the Austrian actor who takes on the role of Johann. Mr. Lust is a minimalist actor; his expressions rarely change, nor do his movements. But when they do, certain things build. He brings his energy down often only to explode. And just watching him run is a strange but satisfying delight.
            The film follows Johann after his first stint in jail, which he follows almost immediately by getting back into the business, committing a series of quick bank robberies. What the film attempts to suggests is that Johann is not after the money—he needs the stakes to increase his adrenaline, which is what he’s really after. A doctor tells him early on that high jumps in adrenaline will increase his stamina, and thus a robber is born.
            But besides that, the film is surprisingly clichéd, especially with Johann’s relationship with a female parole officer who is also his ex-girlfriend. I kept wishing for Mr. Hiesenberg to take their story is a new route, something ambitious, yet he kept it firmly grounded. Thus whenever Johann is not running miles or speeding out of a bank, the film loses speed. Mr. Hiesenberg is a great stylist, and the escapes in this film are similar to the Jason Bourne films, both the Paul Greengrass kinetic action sequences, as well as the more quiet, tension building ones of Doug Liman (a fifteen minute escape in a dark woods is especially thrilling).
            But as the film slowly trots along to its somewhat predictable ending, there’s not much at stake for The Robber, well, except, how far can you take it.

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