Theatrical Review: Stefan Ruzowitzky
's The Counterfeiters opens on a beach in Monte Carlo where Salomon Sorowitsch (the great Karl Markovics) is sitting in a nice suit and a briefcase. Ten minutes later, Salomon walks into the swankest hotel in the gambling paradise and opens the case to reveal a king's bounty of crisp bills. You'd think the guy was James Bond's ragged older brother but, in truth, the guy has earned the right to be a ruthless money-spender.
Based on the true account of a group of Jewish counterfeiters that worked for the Nazis, Ruzowitzky casts Sorowitsch as the morally negligent foreman of a group of counterfeiters. Already an accomplished counterfeiter before being caught, Salomon (his friends call him Solly) gets put in job of the money counterfeiting operation by Herzog (an impressively whiny Devid Striesow
), the commander of his current camp and the man who originally arrested Salomon. Article continues below
Sorowitsch gets a morally righteous kick in the stones by fellow prisoner Adolf Burger (played with ample rage by August Diehl
), who would later go onto write the non-fiction story that the film is based on. Adolf starts laying it on thick when Sorowitsch is handed the task of making perfect counterfeits of the American dollar. Burger, given the news that his wife was shot for trying to escape, uses his job at the lightpress to sabotage all of Sorowitsch's molds. Herzog and his diabolical right-hand man Holst (Martin Brambach) threaten to shoot random employees unless they can make a perfect counterfeit dollar.
Things are left relatively ambiguous to Salomon until Holst executes the young Kolya (Sebastian Urzendowsky), a young man who took Sorowitsch as his father figure. The filmmaking also seems ambiguous. It's a consistent film, in tone and in story, but with films as outlandishly daring as Fateless and last year's superb Black Book rethinking the War, its victims, and perceptions of the aftermath, something as terminally normal as The Counterfeiters comes off as hay in a haystack. That goes for almost every facet of the production besides the acting: Cinematographer Benedict Neuenfels' camerawork does its job succinctly but with no verve and Marius Ruhland's score sounds like it came out of a can. And don't get me started on the paint-by-numbers production design.
My fury over what films the Academy chooses to nominate, leave alone those that win, might never subside, but The Counterfeiters certainly isn't the worst film they've ever picked (my choice: Life is Beautiful). That being said, how a film like this sneaks past genuinely great films like 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, The Host, or the aforementioned Black Book may be one of those great mysteries that are never meant to be solved. For now, however, The Counterfeiters joins that class of films like Tsotsi and The Sea Inside that are just good enough to look like they matter and are digestible enough for the Academy to continue its unparalleled losing streak in celebrating artistic accomplishment. Be sure to tune in Sunday.