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Originally published Friday, September 23, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Movie review

Breaking free of Berlin Wall

Filmgoers of a certain age might well remember an "NBC White Paper" broadcast on American television in 1961, documenting the...

Filmgoers of a certain age might well remember an "NBC White Paper" broadcast on American television in 1961, documenting the daring rescue of a number of East Berliners who escaped to the West through a lengthy tunnel constructed beneath the Berlin Wall.

Roland Suso Richter's enthralling "The Tunnel" (2001) is the story of that "Mission: Impossible"-like feat, undertaken by a champion German swimmer, Harry Melchior (Heino Ferch), and his best friend, engineer Matthis Hiller (Sebastian Koch). Both Melchior, a one-time political prisoner who endured torture in the Soviet-controlled sector of the city, and Hiller left behind loved ones during their own flights to freedom.

Movie review

3.5 stars

Showtimes and trailer

"The Tunnel," with Heino Ferch and Sebastian Koch. Directed by Roland Suso Richter, from a screenplay by Johannes W. Betz. Not rated; includes adult themes and one sexual situation. 157 minutes. In German with English subtitles. Varsity.

Along with a handful of others eager to retrieve friends and family members trapped on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall, the pair dig their way over many months to an opening beneath an abandoned factory. The venture is full of setbacks (flooding in the tunnel) and enormous risks (East German authorities are on to the plan; they just don't know where or how). Suspense is at times deliciously unbearable, and the capacity for sacrifice and heroism among several characters is deeply moving.

At a brisk but considerable 157 minutes, "The Tunnel" has plenty of room to explore relationships, a range of emotions and potential complications, particularly confused allegiances and the occasional collapse of hope. Richter makes wonderful if obvious use of the wall and the tunnel as built-in metaphors for our struggle for human connection and dread of helplessness and change. This is a thinking person's adventure, but expect your heart to pound.

— Tom Keogh

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