Most fans of Hollywood movies will probably not like this film because it doesn't contain massive explosions or a bombastic soundtrack (in fact it practically has none) but this stunner (based on the story of a real life bank robber) is one of the great thrillers of the decade. A sleek, sparse study of existentialism, THE ROBBER is a must see.
It begins rather abruptly, the first scene is a man named Johann (superbly played by Andreas Lust) running in what seems like a training center, but as soon as the camera pans back we realize he is in a prison and is about to be released after serving a 6 year sentence. As the story unfolds Johann is set free where he begins to win marathons but leads a double life as he returns to his old habits of stealing cars and then using them as getaway vehicles for his bank robberies.
As with European cinema, much of the pacing and characters are understated, there are times when nobody says anything but from the background noises and the looks on their faces you can clearly tell what they are thinking. Even though the few people he knows (his former girlfriend, his parole officer) deeply cares for him and pulls strings to get him to live a normal life it's clear that he does not want any of it. Johann just wants to rob banks and run because that is all he is. The whole movie takes place in Austria, the land of Heidi and Vienna coffee houses but with the movie being portrayed through Johann's eyes, Austria seems bleak, detached and robotic to make it look almost unbearable to be living in; while there are other characters in the story, they seem to be nothing more than minor twinkles in Johann's eye- he does not care for them and it almost seems like they are ghosts to him.
There were some professional critics that lambasted this movie for not revealing Johann's motivation on why he is what he is. But what they don't understand is that it really doesn't matter. Some people do things because it's the one thing (or two in Johann's case) that gives them meaning- everything else is of no consequence. I find the main protagonist/antagonist of this movie to be a combination of Johnny Depp's John Dillinger in PUBLIC ENEMIES and Barry Newman's Kowalski in VANISHING POINT. They exist only to do the one thing that matters to them and that's it.
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