Why is it that the public may tend to be partial to the transgressions of scandalous celebrities such as Roman Polanski, while favoring stiff punishment and essentially throwing away the key in the case of more anonymous perps? These sorts of social contradictions permeate, when not subtly taunting viewers, in the quite accomplished and mesmerizing Austrian psychological crime thriller, The Robber [Der Rauber].
Directed by Benjamin Heisenberg and based on the 2005 Martin Prinz novel, The Robber is a bare bones biopic of real life fanatical marathon runner, Johann Kastenberger, a speed freak, so to speak, into withdrawal not from drugs, but rather unauthorized sums from local banks. And who appeared more than driven to divide his time beteen running for glory on the track and from the police when dashing away after bank heists in the 1980s.
The film inexplicably updates the story to the present day, and provides the progressively unhinged eccentric with a brand new name – Johann Rettenberger [Andreas Lust] – and somewhat revamped M.O. A determined misanthrope lacking any further explanation, the previously celebrated runner Johann is incarcerated for a failed bank robbery. Where he passes the time still sprinting around the prison courtyard when not deep into the electric treadmill in his cell, provided by a prison official fan.
But Johann seems to be in a prison of his own even upon his release, and obsessively resumes both running and robbing. Even the sexual advances of Erika (Franziska Weisz), a clerk at the unemployment office he visits, barely distract him. Though he doesn’t object to Erika taking him home as her own possible danger junkie trophy boy toy, an unorthodox method of applicant advice and support not likely found in her job training manual.
The action sequences in the film are breathlessly dazzling, and could provide more than a few inventive pointers to those overly mechanized and digitalized cookie cutter Hollywood action blockbusters. Though re-setting the story in the more generic present likely robbed this pungent tale of its original meaty context. That is, a late 20th century period giving rise to the supremely reckless Kastenberger, gone banking repeatedly in a Ronald Reagan Halloween mask at a time when political subversion and heady rebellion flourished. And which got a decidedly more flavorful and raucously satisfying treatment in Kathryn Bigelow’s own 1991 surfer to stickup Kastenberger spin, Point Break.
The Robber, with an identity crisis of its own not unrelated to the conflicted protagonist, seems to be stuck between appropriately layering its secretive sociopath in an emotionally withdrawn cocoon of authentically conveyed mystery, while not coming off as shallow and also satisfying the audience’s persistent need to know. Let’s just say the verdict on that problematic particular score in The Robbery, is a hung jury.
Kino Lorber Films