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Friday, June 10, 2011

'The Robber' runs down Austria's marathon man

The Austrian crime drama The Robber takes inspiration from the career of Johann Kastenberger, a.k.a. "Pump-Gun Ronnie," an outlaw who knocked over Austrian banks in the 1980s while wearing a Ronald Reagan mask. At the time of his bank heists, Kastenberger lead a double life as a prodigious marathon racer and some of his records still stand today.

Based on Martin Prinz' novel, The Robber presents fictionalized racer/criminal Johann Rettenberger (Andreas Lust), whom we meet in prison: he runs laps in the exercise yard, then returns to cell to train on a treadmill. Rettenberger remains impassive in the face of the touchy-feely counselors who encourage him to go straight upon his release. He amps up his training and wins high-profile marathons, but also commits armed bank hold-ups while wearing a mask that's only slightly more impassive than his own face.

Rettenberger seems almost indifferent to his sacks of ill-gotten gain, and we soon realize that he actually covets the adrenaline — it's like a runner's high with lives on the line. In perhaps The Robber's most revelatory moment, he returns home from a theft and removes one of those athlete's heart-monitors from across his chest. When he looks at the results on his computer, the "spike" obviously indicates the time of the robbery. Sports equipment also provides a metaphor when he's trying out new running shoes, and a high-tech videotape of his stride records only the footwear, as if he's a ghost, and nothing exists but the race.

Dramatically, The Robber doesn't spike very often. Rettenberger speaks little and reveals less, as if he's only truly alive when either running in marathons or from the police. He starts a love affair with an old acquaintance (Franziska Weisz), but seems more interested in her for sexual release than personal connection. Andreas Lust, who starred in a similarly poker-faced crime flick Revanche, conveys intensity through his emotional containment, as if he disciplines his feelings as much as his body.

With its themes of running, criminality and alienation, The Robber harks back nearly a half century to 1962's The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, although the antihero of that film — one of many rebellious "angry young men" of the era — defies authority to assert his individuality. In The Robber, Rettenberger shows an almost masochistic hunger for being a racer and a fugitive. The spare but compelling chase scenes that dominate the film's last act suggest that the finish line amounts to a dead end. The chase is everything.

The Robber. 3 stars. Directed by Benjamin Heisenberg. Stars Andreas Lust, Franziska Weisz. Opens Fri., June 10. At Landmark Midtown Art Cinema.

(Andreas Lust of similarly pokerfaced crime drama )

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