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Originally published Thursday, May 5, 2011 at 4:59 PM

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Movie review

'The Robber': Crime flick captures a runner's — and robber's — high

A movie review of "The Robber": This austere drama about a real-life Austrian bank robber and marathon runner is a tense, methodical and furiously existential character study made all the more fascinating for its combination of edgy action and unresolved issues of motivation.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3 stars

'The Robber,' with Andreas Lust, Franziska Weisz. Directed by Benjamin Heisenberg, from a screenplay by Heisenberg and Martin Prinz. 97 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. In German with English subtitles. Varsity.

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This story of real-life Austrian criminal Johann Kastenberger is both tranquil and gripping. The methodical pace and furiously existential attitude of character and action in "The Robber" induce an austere sense of realist tension, especially as the rhythm quickens toward a resolution made all the more unsettling for its quiet ambiguity.

Kastenberger's surname has been changed to Rettenberger for the movie, perhaps to reflect fictionalized elements in the life of the champion marathoner whose addiction to the endorphin high of running was equal to the adrenaline rush of robbing banks. As played by Andreas Lust ("Revanche"), Kastenberger betrays no emotion or transformation upon his release from prison.

Between setting an amateur record in the Vienna Marathon, he's back to pulling solo heists, obsessively tracking his physical performance and hoarding his irrelevant booty. His thoughts remain thoroughly vacant. An impulsive act of murder and a detached relationship with a woman who appears to be a childhood friend (Franziska Weisz) betray precious few clues about his psyche. Director Benjamin Heisenberg keeps any literal interpretation of his behavior at a fascinating remove.

The flat manner Rettenberger carries with the mystery of his motivations is offset by a series of edgy, expertly choreographed chase scenes and may be key to the impulses of his confused inner self. He only feels truly free when he's running or robbing, which is pretty much true for the movie.

His final run — for his life — is a superb confluence of character and tension that's as unexpected as it is beautiful.

Ted Fry:

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