It used to be that heavy, high-maintenance film equipment couldn’t keep up with runners, so filmmakers usually either accelerated the projection speed and made all the running look goofily artificial—or else placed it in slow motion, added music, and made it disgustingly sentimental. Now, lightweight cameras can move as fast as the runner can, and help the viewer feel like he or she is running that fast, too. The Robber, Benjamin Heisenberg’s new crime thriller, takes full advantage of this, and also shows how the current technology can use lighting to flatten the screen image and make it look like you’re hurtling full across a straight line. Backgrounds and other distractions are eliminated. All that matters is the race.
The Robber’s hero is a champion marathon runner, and the rush you get from watching him dash through hills carries over as you watch him dash through banks. Then he leaps in his car, and songs like “Superstar” and “Dirt on the Wire” keep the rush going. But then characters start talking, and the rush falls off. We never learn why Johann (Andreas Lust) has to keep robbing banks, and while we don’t need to, none of the surrounding characters provide rich enough drama to compensate. There’s a bespectacled parole officer who keeps asking nosy questions until—spoilers herein—Johann whacks him with a race trophy, a pretty thin metaphor for how he hopes he can outrun his past. There’s a girl who doesn’t like or trust him much but keeps sleeping with him anyway, until she does what women do in crime movies, and rats him out to the cops.
It’s tiring when filmmakers—mainly men, ranging from intellectual schmoo Philippe Grandrieux (Sombre) to hipster god Jim Jarmusch (The Limits of Control)—claim that their work is anti-psychological, and then use technique as a smokescreen for dubious racial, sexual, and political views. The Robber would be more offensive if I hadn’t seen it before. Sports hold a fascistic appeal, and have at least since Leni Riefenstahl made Olympia. The Robber doesn’t add anything new. You’re left instead with a ’30s Warner Bros. movie plus a handheld camera and a rock soundtrack. The Robber’s race to mediocrity ends with a dying phone call, which among other things is the death of inspiration.