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With: Karl Markovics, August Diehl, Devid Striesow, Martin Brambach, August Zirner, Veit Stübner, Sebastian Urzendowsky, Andreas Schmidt, Tilo Prückner, Lenn Kudrjawizki, Norman Stoffregen
Written by: Stefan Ruzowitzky, based on a book by Adolf Burger
Directed by: Stefan Ruzowitzky
MPAA Rating: R for some strong violence, brief sexuality/nudity and language
Language: German with English subtitles
Running Time: 98
Date: 02/10/2007

The Counterfeiters (2008)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Off the Money

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Austrian filmmaker Stefan Ruzowitzky directed one of the worst films I've ever seen, All the Queen's Men (2001), a so-called "comedy" about drag queens set in World War II. Now this inept amateur returns with The Counterfeiters. This time, it's a critic-proof movie, based on a true story, and set in a WWII concentration camp. It's so critic proof that, despite its obvious ham-fisted qualities, it has gone on to win the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film. Don't be fooled. While The Counterfeiters does indeed contain a good story, it is by no means a good film. This is an excellent reminder to critics that great filmmaking requires a good deal more than just a story. Salomon Sorowitsch (the appealing, long-faced Karl Markovics) makes a living crafting fake passports and the like before the Nazis discover and arrest him. He survives his first "prison" by painting pleasing pictures for the Nazis, until he's transferred to a new camp: here he will use his skills to imitate the British pound and the American dollar, with which the Nazis will attempt to destroy the world economy. As motivation, Salomon and his colleagues are treated well, with good food and soft beds. He and his team go to work, but certain men are more interested in subverting the evil plan than in saving their own lives. Will these rebels put everyone in danger? Ruzowitzky takes this amazing story and presents it in the clumsiest, most mundane way imaginable. Though many, many scenes take place in the workshop, we never get a sense of the men actually working, no glimpse of the details of their jobs or their methods. When Ruzowitzky begins a scene, it's more like the actors are waiting for a cue than actually working. Ruzowitzky's rudimentary screenplay, adapted from a book by Adolf Burger, uses annoying, lazy short cuts, such as too much dialogue and in all the wrong places. (Characters abruptly continue conversations begun hours earlier.) Even his camera setups are so routine that it's possible to guess how each entire scene will play out. Most viewers will forgive the film for its story and its very good lead performance, but for me the obvious lack of artistry and care that went into its creation is unworthy of the subject matter and ultimately unforgivable.

DVD Details: Whenever I see a movie this bad, I somehow always hope that the DVD commentary track will have some kind of explanation, or an apology, or something -- maybe even an MST3K-style comedy thing. But, no. It's pretty standard, with all kinds of ultra-serious stuff about research and whatnot. It does contain a featurette about Adolf Burger, whose real-life story is far more interesting than The Counterfeiters. Otherwise, Sony's DVD comes with deleted scenes, a making-of featurette, a Q&A with the director and interviews.

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