I respectfully request the use of your car.

Theatrical Release Date: 05/20/2011
Director: Benjamin Heisenberg
Cast: Andreas Lust, Franziska Weisz, Florian Wotruba, Johann Bednar, Markus Schleinzer
Rated: Not Rated by the MPAA
Runtime: 1 hour, 37 minutes


Good thing God doesn’t have a magnifying glass.

Everyone is familiar with Johann Kastenberger and his string of Austrian bank robberies in the 1980s. His use of a Ronald Reagan mask and a pump-action shotgun led to his nickname of “Pump-gun Ronnie”. But you already know this, of course.

No? Oh good, because neither did I before watching director Benjamin Heisenberg’s “The Robber”.

Based on the book regarding Kastenberger’s crimes, “On the Run” by Martin Prinz, the film changes the name to Rettenberger; and for anyone out there who actually is aware of the events that came to be, the ending is slightly changed (but works nicely). Otherwise the story is fairly true to real events and more importantly, it gives audiences a compelling story to watch.

Rettenberger (Andreas Lust) is a marathon runner, and at one point held the Austrian record time for the marathon. The film opens with him running a prison courtyard, then running on a treadmill in his cell (which he was granted upon special dispensation by his psychologist), and much of the film sees him running either as part of training or in the commencement of his subsequent bank hold-ups.

This heavy focus on running isn’t simply holding with facts however, it also serves as a metaphor for Rettenberger’s life. Always on the move, he’s like some kind of criminal shark that must continue running in order to survive. This motif is solidified by his disinterest in the spoils of the crimes. He’s not out buying expensive cars or planning some exotic lifestyle in a non-extradition country. And as for basic monetary needs, the money gained from winning marathons could more than likely handle daily expenses and more should Johann have chosen to go that route.

But there’s some element of thrill, satisfaction, and perhaps even compulsion, that drive Rettenberger to rob banks. He takes great care to avoid capture, remaining methodical and detached in his planning, but also refrains from harming anyone in the process. His world is thrown upside-down though after taking up with Erika (Franziska Weisz). In succumbing to this relationship, an element of chaos creeps in and it makes avoiding the ever-tightening noose of the authorities closing in on Rettenberger that much harder to do.

What is most impressive about Heisenberg’s take on things though (co-writing the screenplay with Prinz) is that the sole focus is Rettenberger. While there are a few chase scenes which stretch out via long takes, the film is about undertaking this journey with a man whose only apparent goal is to keep running … running from what is the question. At what point will it be enough? Is there such a point?

As Rettenberger, Lust delivers a commanding performance. Lengthy segments of the film rely on his solitary figure being front and center, running from one thing to another, or quietly meditating on where he’ll run to next. Rather than become tedious, we’re captivated by this enigmatic figure – trying to figure out what makes him tick.

Although this is billed as epic chase film, and the facts of the matter support this idea, the action really serves to define Rettenberger’s character rather than provide cheap thrills. So don’t get caught up in the marketing hype, what pursuits occur aren’t anything like the typical Hollywood ones, all full of sound and fury (yes, signifying nothing). These are measured and meticulously composed escapes, serving the character’s motivations and not a simplistic means to titillate audiences.

Still, as much as I appreciate Heisenberg’s sensibilities and Lust’s performance, “The Robber” suffers from glacial pacing, the romantic subplot isn’t developed well enough, and it’s hard to recommend to casual filmgoers. Had this been trimmed to something more like 80 minutes rather than 97, that efficiency could have made exploring Rettenberg’s character far more palatable, especially because he’s the only person who gets any sort of development. Those more accustomed to foreign and independent fare should take notice though and I’m giving it a 3.5 out of 5, more so for its artistic merit than an entertainment factor.

3.5 out of 5