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Review: The Lives of Others (2006)

The Lives of Others (2006)

Directed by: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

Premise: Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, East German investigator Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) carries out surveillance on Georg (Sebastian Koch), a playwright suspected of writing subversive material, and Georg’s girlfriend and actress Christa-Maria (Martina Gedeck).

What Works: The Lives of Others is a terrific film about trust and loyalty and how people make compromises to protect themselves. The story is filled with competing allegiances, as Christa Maria cheats on Georg with a party official to protect herself while putting her relationship at stake. Georg tries to write party-friendly stage plays but is plagued by the sacrifice of his artistic vision and is driven to write what he really feels and thinks. At the same time, Wiesler gets so involved in his investigation that he risks his cover and career to protect the couple from the government and from each other’s actions. These overlapping relationships are executed brilliantly as the characters knowingly and unknowingly put each other at stake in one moment and save each other in the next. The acting is terrific, especially Mühe as the quiet but conflicted investigator. He does a lot of subtle work in the role that makes him powerful but vulnerable. His isolation is used in the story to create a credible love triangle between Wiesler and the couple, which is fully realized with a minimum of actual interaction the three characters. The film is paced and staged very well and includes interesting subplots that support the themes of trust and loyalty while deepening the sense of danger and omnipotence of the state.

What Doesn’t: The film does run a little long, especially in the very end, but the postscript to the story works out very well.

DVD extras: Deleted scenes, featurette, commentary track.

Bottom Line: The Lives of Others is a great story. It’s characters are subtly brought to life through a good script and some terrific acting and the film is the kind of thriller that makes audiences wonder what will happen next. Although it takes place in Communist East Germany, the film’s themes of loyalty, power, and responsibility are extremely relevant, especially in our current political environment.

Episode: #159 (September 30, 2007)