Directed by: Baran bo Odar.
Written by: Baran bo Odar based on the novel by Jan Costin Wagner.
Starring: Ulrich Thomsen (Peer Sommer), Wotan Wilke Möhring (Timo Friedrich), Katrin Sass (Elena Lange), Sebastian Blomberg (David Jahn), Burghart Klausner (Krischan Mittich), Karoline Eichhorn (Ruth Weghamm), Roeland Wiesnekker (Karl Weghamm), Jule Böwe (Jana Gläser), Oliver Stokowski (Matthias Grimmer), Claudia Michelsen (Julia Friedrich), Amon Robert Wendel (Malte), Kara McSorley (Laura), Anna Lena Klenke (Sinikka), Helene Luise Doppler (Pia).
In the past decade, there have been many interesting crime thrillers made that on the surface look to be typical police procedurals, but when you look a little closer than are deeper than that. David Fincher’s Zodiac, Bong Joon-ho`s Memories of Murder, Cornielu Porumboiu`s Police Adjective, Cristi Puiu`s Aurora, Nuri Blige Ceylon’s Once Upon a Time in Anatolia - even Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty fall into this category. Each of these films look into a crime or crimes, and has police officers or others obsessed with discovering the truth – but while in the end they will discover what they are looking for (or in the case of Zodiac, at least think they do), the answer isn’t quite as satisfying as they think. They are driven to uncover the truth, but while they will eventually figure out the who and the how, the why eludes them even in the end, and they are left unsatisfied. Or perhaps it something more simple – knowing what happened, doesn’t reverse time and prevent it from happening. The new German film The Silence from first time director Baran bo Odar is not in the same league as those other films – it’s plot a little too conventional, it’s characters fall a little too predictably into the genre conventions. But it a well-made, well-acted, intelligent thriller – one that isn’t as focused on shocking the audience than showing them the entire picture of two shocking crimes. And there is a difference.
The opens in 1986, with Peer (Ulrich Thomsen) and Timo (Wotan Wilke Mohring) watching a film of some sort, and then wordless getting up and walking to their car. The drive down a nearly deserted road, and then follow a young teenage girl on her bike down a dirt road next to a field. While Timo sits in the car, seemingly on the verge of tears, Peer gets out, tackles the girl and strangles her to death. We then flash forward 23 years to the day – when pretty much the exact same crime happens again – to a very similar victim in the exact same spot.
Among the characters in The Silence are of course Peer and Timo – who are both guilty of murder, but have very different personalities. We will flash back to the 1980s to see how their “friendship” started – and how it ended. Then there Elena (Katrin Sass), the mother of the first girl, who remains haunted by the death of her daughter, and remains in the same house, all alone as her husband couldn’t take the constant grief. The parents of the new girl, who is still missing (Karoline Eichhorn and Roeland Wiesnekker), who are just beginning on a similar journey. There is also Krischan (Burghart Klausner), the original detective on the case, who cannot get the crime out of his mind – and wouldn’t you know it, the day before the new victim turns up is the day he retires. The new detective is David Jahn (Sebastian Blomberg), still grieving the loss of his wife, and who has dreams about the crime. His partner is Matthias (Oliver Stokowski), who thinks David is an idiot – and thinks little more of Krischan.
The Silence really isn’t a whodunit. We know that Peer and Timo are responsible for the first murder, and the movie doesn’t even attempt to give us alternate suspects for the second crime. Unless the movie is going to pull the rug out from under the audience, you know fairly early that the second crime was either committed by Peer or Timo – or Peer and Timo. What the film is really about then is the aftereffects of the crime – and the pain every character has over not knowing what really happened. This goes for Elena, obviously, who cannot move on with her life, and Krischan who will not move on with his. But it also goes for Peer, who lost his only real friend over it. And in a very real way, it goes for Timo as well – who doesn’t know if he can control himself.
The movie is a little too predictable for my tastes. In many ways, it does resemble a German episode of Criminal Minds, in which we see the cops trying to figure out who did it and the criminals as they go about their lives trying to stay ahead. But hell, I like Criminal Minds, so that’s not much of a complaint from me. And the film is also impressively directed by first time filmmaker Baran bo Odar – especially his use of overhead shots, that are truly haunting. And the cast is all first rate – good enough that I was willing to overlook the fact that things are a little too predictable, and in some cases muddled (the psychology behind Peer is especially muddled – the movie seems to suggest he is not really a pedophile, just trying to befriend one in Timo, but all his films suggest otherwise).
Overall, The Silence doesn’t reinvent the wheel when it comes to thrillers – and cannot quite compare with the films I mentioned off the top of this review. Yet, it is still an intelligent, well written, well directed and extremely well-acted example of its genre – and that’s more than enough for me.