“The Robber,” an Austrian/German production based on a true story and a book by Martin Prinz, played the 46th Annual Chicago Film Festival today, and star Andrea Lust’s portrait of a world-class runner who is an adrenaline junky was top-notch.
We first see Lust’s character of Johann Rettenberger running in circles, training. It isn’t clear that he is a prisoner running in a prison courtyard until he is escorted back to his cell, where he has a treadmill and a number of running shoes. Rettenberger is a relentless man with hard eyes. When he is interviewed about his impending release after 6 years behind bars (with 2 previous escapes from Stein prison), he is asked if he needs any help. His response: “I haven’t needed help for 6 years; I don’t need help now.”
Just as a truly dedicated marathon runner runs because he must, Rettenberger steals because he must. He does both well, “but the pace is already murderous.” We soon see Rettenberger, cheered by his countrymen, winning 5,000 Euros and setting a new record at the 25th Vienna City Marathon. He pulls down another 10,000 Euros for being a first-time winner.
But Rettenberger’s meek parole officer is concerned that the ex-convict’s life isn’t stable, and tells him, “I don’t get the sense that you’re cooperating.” Ironically, Rettenberger tells the little man, who has come to speak with him after a race, to put out the cigarette he is smoking, reversing the power structure.
Rettenberger is a man on a mission, and that mission is robbing banks and running races. He is addicted to both and will not quit either. He doesn’t do either for the money, although money is both stolen and won. When his parole officer warns him that he might end up back in prison, he has a telling line: “That won’t happen. I can guarantee that.”
Rettenberger, not unlike the Boston career criminals portrayed in Ben Affleck’s new release “The Town,” simply likes to break the rules. He doesn’t need the money that badly; he just lives to resist. Even when doing something as simple as pulling his car into heavy traffic, he cuts across the yard to avoid the congestion, no doubt a “no no,” even in Vienna. Eight banks are robbed in Vienna and lower Austria and the search for the robber intensifies. Rettenberger is driven. He can’t stop.
As with Dillinger and others, a woman is Rettenberger’s ultimate undoing. He has led a singularly insular life, no family, no connections, and that has kept him successful at what he does, (which is run and rob.) When his girlfriend Erika discovers his hidden loot, she asks, “Is that how little your life is worth? That little bit of money?” Hans replies, “What I do has nothing to do with what you call life.” She protests, “You can make a choice. I believe that. And if you can’t, that says a lot.”
The dream that Rettenberger confides to Erika is most telling. He tells her that he has a dream that he is in his coffin, but “I’m so full of energy in my grave that I come back just to resist.”
You just know that this film is not going to end well for Der Rauber, but the question is not so much when or where, but how it will end. There are many bank robberies, all of them risky and usually with Rettenberger escaping on foot, which leads to many scenes of him running in the woods. There are massive manhunts for the perpetrator, especially after a death occurs, somewhat accidentally. There’s even a helicopter chase reminiscent of the O.J. white Bronco (only, this time, the car is red), but Rettenberger just won’t stop. He’s a runner, and he’s on a run. He’s a bank robber, and he isn’t going to stop robbing banks, either.
But, as the polizei tell Erika, his girlfriend, “He’ll run out of breath sooner or later.”
A fascinating character study of a true criminal from Director Benjamin Heisenberg, a taut thriller with fine acting by Andrea Lust as “Der Rauber,” based on the exploits of the Austrian criminal known as “Pump-Gun Ronnie,” this German film with subtitles is, as advertised in the Chicago Film Festival program, “pulse-pounding” and instantly brings comparisons to mind of “The Town” out now from Director Ben Affleck. In that film, Jeremy Renner is the inveterate robber, but Renner’s robber is a bomb ready to explode, while Rettenberger is cold, impassive, calculating, not necessarily prone to violence, smart and shrewd, right up until the end.