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Movie review: 'The Robber'

Adrenaline races through this taut thriller inspired by the life of an Austrian marathon runner and serial robber.

May 06, 2011|By Sheri Linden, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Andreas Lust stars "The Robber."
Andreas Lust stars "The Robber." (Miguel Dieterich, Kino…)

What makes Johann run? There are no ready answers to that question, no cautionary back story or psychological conjecture in "The Robber," a film as lean and taut as its marathon-winning title character. Johann Rettenberger, the protagonist of this fine action drama set in Austria, has thrust himself onto twin paths of notoriety, as athlete and criminal; he's a solitary creature in an unnatural habitat.

When we first see him, Johann is running laps around a prison courtyard. Upon release he embarks on long-distance training, checks in at the job office and, without missing a beat, steals a car and holds up a bank. The robberies proliferate; the cash piles up under his bed like a collection of useless souvenirs. He also accumulates trophies for marathons, beginning with the Vienna competition, where he's "the unknown runner," beating the favorites and setting a new record. Monitoring his heart rate with the latest tech, he studies the digital evidence of an afternoon's dash from cops in broad daylight.

Andreas Lust (who played a devoted cop in the Oscar-nominated thriller "Revanche") portrays Johann as a precariously calibrated mixture of control and impulse. Worried about his stability, his earnest probation officer (Markus Schleinzer) dogs him about becoming more involved with other people.

Johann does make a connection, despite his tightly tuned plans, with a social worker who offers him a room and eventually her bed. Affectingly played by Franziska Weisz, Erika is as alone as her boarder, knocking around her deceased family's cavernous and crumbling Old World apartment. She's aware of Johann's criminal past but not his present, and makes her first move by taking him to see a movie whose car chase (heard but not seen) especially delights her.

With the help of a percussive score, director Benjamin Heisenberg orchestrates astounding action sequences of his own — not least a climactic pursuit and standoff across highway and woods — and is equally adept at zeroing in on moments of intimate revelation.

He and co-screenwriter Martin Prinz, working from Prinz's novel, have based their story on the true exploits of one of Austria's most-wanted lawbreakers of the 1980s. They use dialogue sparingly, powerfully; a talky detective sounds like a visitor from another planet. The world he has encroached upon is defined by the ability to run and the adrenaline-rush threat of capture. Freedom's just another word in this gripping existential portrait.

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