Film Review: The Robber

Dull account of a real-life crook known as "Pump-Gun Ronnie" receives a belated release here after a so-so reception in Europe.

True crime can't get much more minimal, or less involving, than in The Robber, an Austrian-German co-production about a bank robber who also ran marathons. Based on Johann Kastenberger (called Rettenberger here), the film details plenty of heists, a lot of running, and a dispiriting look at a doomed love affair. Even marathoners will find little to cheer about here.

The Robber
starts in prison, where Rettenberger (Andreas Lust) matches wits with his parole officer (Markus Schleinzer) prior to his release after a six-year sentence. Rettenberger has barely checked into a rented room when he starts robbing banks again, wielding a shotgun and wearing a flesh-colored mask. Drums pound on the soundtrack as he carries out his crimes, which is about as far as anyone goes to try to explain Rettenberger's motives.

Money doesn't seem to matter to Rettenberger as much as training for long-distance running. He comes from far back in the pack to set a new national record in a Vienna marathon, but winning seems to provide little satisfaction either.

After a chance encounter with Erika (Franziska Weisz) at an employment agency, Rettenberger moves in with her and starts a physical relationship that looks completely loveless. When Erika discovers bags full of money under the bed, Rettenberger moves out. He takes more and more risks until he attacks his parole officer.

The attack makes Rettenberger the subject of a widespread manhunt. The chase extends over several days, involving a grueling race up a mountain, some lucky breaks, and choices that leave the criminal with very few options.

Benjamin Heisenberg, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Martin Prinz, directs The Robber like a how-to documentary, using subjective cameras and the illusion of real-time editing to give viewers a sense of how Rettenberger must have experienced his crimes. Occasionally this pays off with gripping scenes, particularly as Rettenberger speeds down highways in stolen cars. But for the most part, the film feels like a random accumulation of details that don't add up to anything. We gain no insight into Rettenberger or his limited relationships, and little idea of how Vienna reacted to his crimes.

Even Reinhold Vorschneider's cinematography is disappointing. He employs a monochromatic palette that drains color from faces, emphasizing the lifeless quality to Andreas Lust's performance. Austrians familiar with Kastenberger's story might bring more sympathetic attitudes to The Robber, but for everyone else this is a long slog to a poor payoff.