It's easy to look at the DVD cover for The Robber and think that it's some international knock-off of the recent crime film hit The Town. To do so would be a discredit to both films, but in the case of The Robber is cheating yourself out of an intriguing cinematic experience.
The screenplay was co-written by Martin Prinz (who wrote the original novel) and Benjamin Heisenberg, the latter of whom directed. The story is based on the life of Johann Kastenberger, a champion marathon runner in his native Austria who robbed several banks in the 1980s, often using his fleet feet to help ditch getaway cars and evade police. In The Robber, the main character is named Johann Rettenberger (Andreas Lust, Revanche), who is being released from jail after serving several years for a bank robbery. Upon his release, he continues to do his passions: run, winning the Vienna National Marathon at one point, and robbing banks. Complicating this life is a relationship with Erika (Franziska Wiesz, Dog Days), a friend that Johann knew before his imprisonment, and he tries to continue his crimes without her knowing.
One of the things Heisenberg does well with the film is how he is able to show how Johann handles a robbery in several different aspects. Yet in this style, we do not see many complete robberies from start to finish. Various shots of him carjacking citizens are shown before and after a crime, and in one particular sequence, we see a shot looking out past the windshield with the radio on, first to some bouncy pop music of the day, then a hard cut to a breaking news report on the burglary with some eyewitness reports. The continuing theme of Johann always wanting to move (or look) forward, whether it's driving, running or even walking away from his parole officer is easy to take away from the film, and is even present in its last shot.
If there was an issue I had with the film (not enough for me to dislike it, mind you), it is that the film failed to provide much character exposition for Johann. It is commonplace to hear concerns about films that do not stay true to the source material they are occasionally inspired from, but in the case of The Robber, maybe they were too devoted to it to help provide any proverbial illuminating moments for the characters. I get that Johann wants to rob and run and do little else (and that maybe Prinz was limited to this in his novel), but the motivations for why were what began to intrigue me the more I was enveloped by the film. Johann's development through the film feels a little cheapened from it as a result. I don't think this is the fault of the cast (in terms of not being able to work outside of the material), as Lust turns in a good performance, and Wiesz proves to be an effective actress is her role, it's just something that lingered for me as I watched it.
Minor qualm aside, The Robber proves to be an entertaining and suspenseful film with solid acting and straightforward storytelling told in a slightly different fashion than we are used to. It may lack the star power of The Town, but it makes up for it with a vision that allows it to stand up on its own merits.
The Robber arrives to standard definition with a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation that looks good. Flesh tones look accurate and the color palette is reproduced consistently without any noticeable bleed through. The image looks natural without any edge enhancement or post-production image touching up, and retains film grain during viewing. Black levels are good and lack any crushing to speak of, and while I think the Blu-ray would have made for solid viewing (as Christopher McQuain notes), this standard def disc is fine as well.
The film comes with a 5.1 surround soundtrack that is not too shabby in its own right. Directional effects like a helicopter flying overhead during the final chase and police sirens from all channels help set down a layer of surprising immersion, and while I was half-expecting the subwoofer to poke its head out during the chase, I was mildly disappointed it didn't. Dialogue sounds consistent in the front of the soundstage and channel panning is both evident and effective. It's worth noting the native German audio track (with English subtitles) is the only track on here, so if you're one of those folks who hates reading or prefers to listen to a dubbed English sound option, harden up and take one for the team.
Barely anything is here, a trailer for the film (and four other Kino Lorber titles) and a stills gallery of two dozen pictures.
The unique story of Johann Kastenberger has a worthy retelling in The Robber. The disc is strong looking (and sounding), however the lack of any worthwhile supplements (German or not) makes it hard to recommend it as worth keeping. It is definitely one to check out if you are in the mood for something different in the crime film genre.