17 October 2013 | nesfilmreviews
A missed opportunity for greatness.
Adapted from Dennis Prinz's novel, which is based on real events, "The Robber" has all the elements of a penetrating character study. Unfortunately, director Martin Heisenberg doesn't always use those elements to his advantage. The story is about Johann Rettenberger, an Austrian bandit/marathoner known as "Pump-gun Ronnie." Heisenberg takes a muted, non-psychological approach to his story, and without much in the way of emotional engagement, keeping viewers engaged is certainly more challenging than need be.
Andreas Lust stars as Johann Rettenberger, a serial bank robber who has spent a six- year bid in prison training as a long-distance runner. After being released from prison, Johann runs into Erika (Franziska Weisz) at the Job Center which helps ex- cons find work. The dialogue makes it clear they've met before, but the narrative annoyingly withholds any connection to their past. Why is the beautiful, well-to-do Erika so drawn to this emotionally distant career criminal?
Ultimately, Johann returns to Vienna and combines his two true passions and what he knows best -- running and knocking over banks. His dominance on the marathon circuit gets him noticed, as does his daylight bank heists. Notoriously referred to as "Pump-gun Ronnie," after the Ronald Reagan mask he wears and the shotgun he brandishes. To this day, Rettenberger still holds the record time in the Bergmarathon, a world-famous marathon held in the Austrian Alps.
Frustratingly, we never really get a sense of who Johann is or what motivates him. He is expressionless, cold-hearted, and remains distant throughout. Heisenberg's treatment vividly communicates Rettenberger's neurotic defiance and destructive behavior, but that's no substitute for enabling the viewer to become invested in the character's fate. Johann does not let people into his life, and is a blank cipher as to why he leads the life of a bank robber. It is clearly not the money. Maybe it's the rush he gets, or maybe it is an unexplained obsession. The filmmaker leaves it for the viewer to decide. Although Heisenberg tries to suggest the robberies provide Johann with an adrenaline rush similar to that he experiences while running marathons, the character fails to show any sense of pleasure or catharsis that would make this parallel interesting.
Technical aspects of the film are highly impressive, and the incorporation of Johann into actual Vienna Marathon provides a real sense of authenticity. As a matter of execution, the film's last act is undeniably thrilling. Exceptional work by steadicam operator Matthias Biber gives all the chases and action sequences a visceral energy. "The Robber" could have been a great representation of compulsive behavior. As is, it is a rigid film that is technically sound with a fascinating lead protagonist we still know nothing about.