“What are you looking forward to doing on your release?” Johann Rettenberger (Andreas Lust) is asked by his parole officer at the beginning of Benjamin Heisenberg’s lean Austrian crime thriller The Robber (Der Räuber, 2010). “Not running around in circles,” he replies. However, Johann doesn’t simply mean his regular exercise regime is going to become more varied. He has no intention of going straight, robbing a bank as soon as he has a moment free. Rettenberger is the kind of quiet career criminal that Ryan Gosling would play in the American remake; an alternate version of Nicolas Winding Refn’s über stylish Drive (2011), minus the screeching automobiles.
Like the nameless ‘Driver’ of Refn’s aforementioned cult favourite, our law-flaunting protagonist is intensely determined and methodical, but with a self-destructive love of risk and adrenalin. When not robbing banks, Rettenberger is not only running marathons but winning them comfortably, though the victories bring him no apparent satisfaction. He seems almost to be running them as a form of self-punishment. A chance encounter with an old friend of the family, Erika (Franziska Weisz), leads to a romance and perhaps a way out from the cycle of crime and evasion which threatens him with imprisonment or – given his determination never to return back to the clink – death.
Based on Martin Prinz’s novel On the Run (which is itself based on the true life case of ‘Pumpgun Ronnie’, a bank robber from the eighties), Heisenberg’s film is as grimly determined and as humourless as its protagonist. It plods its way through multiple heists with the interstices characterised by a character who seems dead set on reducing his personality to a limpid emotionless stare. With touches of Melville’s 1967 classic Le Samouraï in its austere, formalistic portrait of uncharismatic, shark-eyed criminality, Heisenberg does allow himself the occasional moment of excitement as an increasingly driven Rettenberger robs two banks in quick succession before escaping the ensuing police pursuit on foot. However, the lack of emotional engagement effectively neuters the romance with Erika. The Robber is a piece of taut Eurocrime which, while unambitious, is also lean, unpretentious and effective.