Release Date: February 9th, 2007 (Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas) by Sony Pictures Classics.
The Cast: Martina Gedeck, Ulrich Mühe, Sebastian Koch, Ulrich Tukur, Thomas Thieme, Hans-Uew Bauer, Herbert Knaup.
Directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck.
In German with subtitles.
BASIC PREMISE: In 1984, the Stasi sends Captain Gerd Wiesler (Mühe) to spy on a couple, Dreyman (Koch) and Christra (Gedeck), suspected of being Communist.
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: The Lives of Others unfolds exactly the way a dramatic thriller should. In the first act, Captain Gerd Wiesler seems like a cold, heartless man who works for the Stasi as a spy before he fall of the Berlin Wall. He taps the phone belonging to Dreyman, a playwright, and installs hidden video cameras throughout his apartment. The plot becomes even more intriguing when Wiesler finds out that his boss (Tukur) has a hidden agenda involving the Minister of Cultural Affairs’ (Thieme) and his love of Christa (Gedeck), Dreyman’s girlfriend, which would explain why the minister would want to get Dreyman in trouble. What makes the plot truly work is the smart, organic screenplay by first-time, writer/director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. He wisely allows for many scenes to breath with life and from the tensions to come from character development rather than relying on plot twists. There certainly are some plot twists here and there, but, fortunately, they are believable. Furthermore, he shows skill at using cinematography along with an appropriate musical score to generate even more suspense. Ulrich Mühe, who uncannily resembles Kevin Spacey, gives a very powerful performance as Wiesler. Mühe expertly masters a range of complex emotions and keeps you riveted from start to finish.
SPIRITUAL VALUE: It’s quite moving the way that Wiesler gradually evolves into somebody with a good heart. His reactions to what he watches and listens to during the surveillance change the way he thinks, feels and cares about others, much unlike the Stasi expect of him. The very last scene is particularly poignant and even uplifting.
INSULT TO YOUR INTELLIGENCE: None.
NUMBER OF TIMES I CHECKED MY WATCH: 0
IN A NUTSHELL: Riveting, smart and surprisingly poignant. A must-see.
RECOMMENDED WAY TO WATCH: Movie Theater
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