When we first meet Austrian hood Johann Rettenberger (Andreas Lust), the subject of Benjamin Heisenberg’s crime drama The Robber (Der Rauber), he’s a soon-to-be ex-convict with cruel, hostile eyes; an icy, unempathetic stare; and a body tough and sinewy from obsessive, masochistic exercise runs in the prison yard, which he undertakes in preparation for marathons. The Robber observes Johann’s experiences over several days following his release from a six-year stint behind bars. Part of the initial shock is the character’s matter-of-factness as he perpetrates vice. In other pictures with a similar subject, such as Ulu Grosbard’s Straight Time (1978), we spend a good deal of time watching the central character struggle and strain to build a “normal” life, and then slip back into ugliness against his or her will. There is no such conflict here; Johann instantly recommits himself to felonious behavior, ripping off a car minutes after he leaves the prison, then knocking off a seemingly endless series of banks in and around Vienna with a grotesque mask that looks ripped off from Ben Affleck’s The Town. Unlike the majority of heist movies, there is no buildup to the robberies, no advance planning -- they simply happen, without any advance notice to the audience.
As such, The Robber is simply a detached observational study of a career criminal’s behavioral compulsion -- robberies alternating with occasional sequences where Johann trains for, then competes in, marathons. Not only does our initial impression of Johann fail to shift one iota over the ensuing 97 minutes, we feel like we’re staring into the eye of a black hole; this is a character with such a steely exterior that we gain no insights into the point of origin for his pathology. He simply breaks the law. And breaks the law. And breaks the law.
Admittedly, the film does provide some respite from this monotony in the form of Johann’s friendship-turned-live-in affair with a social worker named Erika (Franziska Weisz). It’s a relief in the sense that she’s more emotionally open than he, and is therefore far more rewarding to observe and study. Erika is fiercely complex; consider, for example, an animalistic sex scene between the two that follows her discovery of the extent of Johann’s criminal activity, and that therefore suggests some erotic (perhaps sadomasochistic) attraction in her to self-endangerment. Weisz is also perfectly cast -- Heisenberg understands that the actress’s slightly imposing frame and stark Teutonic facial features, combined with her emotional pliability and graceful, feminine carriage, make her ideal for the bipolarity of this role. Yet the expected result of bringing Johann and Erika together never really happens. She tries to reach him, and fails -- making the central relationship incredibly frustrating.
Of course there is suspense as Johann attempts to flee from authorities, eventually racing through the Austrian woods as battalions of flashlight-sweeping cops close in on him from all sides. But the film leaves one terribly depressed. Because we’re never given any insights into the etiology of Johann’s addiction, we’re left to feel that the outcome is irrelevant -- he may get caught, he may evade capture, he may be sent back to prison, or he may get shot and die, but it doesn’t really matter. Whatever the conclusion may be, this character is thoroughly hopeless and irredeemably lost -- to Erika, to himself, and to us.
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- Released: 2010
- Review: When we first meet Austrian hood Johann Rettenberger (Andreas Lust), the subject of Benjamin Heisenberg’s crime drama The Robber (Der Rauber), he’s a soon-to-be ex-convict with cruel, hostile eyes; an icy, unempathetic stare; and a body tough and sinewy fr… (more)