"Running a marathon gives most people enough of an adrenaline rush, but for the truly hardcore, why not rob banks as well?" asks Nicolas Rapold in the Voice. "In the 1980s, Johann Kastenberger excelled at both: The Austrian oddity set records in long-distance races while — in the rest of his free time — he secretly knocked over bank after bank. Benjamin Heisenberg's The Robber is the exhilarating account of Kastenberger's life on the run, adapted from Martin Prinz's 2005 book. An intelligently shot study in self-control and calculated release, it's equally surprising as an action film and character portrait." And he talks with the director.
"Befitting its protagonist's addiction to putting himself in danger (shades of The Hurt Locker), The Robber is a truly visceral piece of cinema, its many marathon scenes and chase sequences legitimately pulse-pounding," writes Benjamin Mercer in Reverse Shot. "But The Robber's surface similarities to the interior redemption narrative Revanche — which [also] starred [Andreas] Lust, often seen jogging through wooded areas, and had a plot that hinged on a Vienna bank hold-up — point up the newer film's weaknesses as a human drama. For while Heisenberg often admirably refrains from over-psychologizing his protagonist, some of his lean 96-minute film's concessions to love-against-all-odds romantic tragedy — Johann is ultimately redeemed (slightly) by his love for a good woman, Erika (Franziska Weisz), a friend from before his time in prison — ring false. Part of the problem with this relationship angle: all along it's easier to accept that the blank-faced Johann sleeps with Erika — who offers him a room in her rather luxurious apartment, an upgrade over the parolee's rail-terminus studio that seems to please him — just to get his heart pumping than it is to believe he genuinely cares for her, something that he attempts to demonstrate only in the film's closing moments."
"Heisenberg constructs The Robber as a series of self-contained, almost anti-dialectical scenarios involving the negotiation of obstacles," writes Michael Sicinski. "While we get a certain amount of basic social context — television announcers filling in ex-con Rettenberger's 'inspiring' story during his first major marathon victory, or the periodic intrusions of Johann's irksome parole officer (Markus Schleinzer) as the voice of liberal concern — the very structure of The Robber militates against things adding up.... Heisenberg's film is about withdrawal, not the conquering of distance. There's a reason why, despite one's possible expectations, it is not called The Runner."
"The film, like its protagonist's life, is a stripping-down and burning-off of everything that isn't essential," writes the L's Mark Asch.
For R Emmet Sweeney, blogging for TCM, "it's a white-knuckle affair shot with daredevil fearlessness. The steadicam operator was sprinting down hallways as fast as Lust, with little cutting and total spatial coherence."
"Heisenberg's got a terrific eye even in repose," agrees Vadim Rizov at GreenCine Daily, "and I look forward to his inevitable Hollywood action movie, which'll be at least as good as Tom Tykwer's underrated The International.... [T]his is the most kinetic film of the year thus far, and a rare (and happy) incursion of the slickly professional into NYFF, which could use more interjections like this."
More from David Ehrlich (Cinematical), David Fear (Time Out New York), Sean Glass (Ioncinema) and Peter Gutierrez (Twitch).
Update, 10/8: Kino International has picked up US rights, reports Peter Knegt at indieWIRE.
Coverage of the coverage: NYFF 2010. For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow The Daily Notebook on Twitter and/or the RSS feed.