The winner for Best Foreign Language Picture at this year's Academy Awards, The Lives of Others is a captivating tale of espionage, love, betrayal, and a realization of one's individual power.
Set in East Germany a few years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the film takes a look at Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler, an interrogator/investigator (Ulrich Mühe) who is assigned to watch George Dreyman (Sebastian Koch), a writer who is believed to be compassionate to the West, at least according to a political rival. With wiretaps in every facet of the Dreyman's home, Wiesler becomes intimately involved in the lives of the writer and his girlfriend, rising actress Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck). As the couple's relationship hangs by a thread and Dreyman considers turning his back on communism once and for all, Wiesler finds himself questioning his very nature, purpose and loyalty.
The Lives of Others bears possession to several great performances, a captivating story and wonderfully seductive direction. Mühe portrays one of the most unpredictable and intriguing protagonists in year, a man who has built his life around an ideal and in one final mission starts questioning his own beliefs. It is clear from the start that he has compassion for these people, but even when he starts to protect them, will he really take that extra step to save either of their lives? Often silent, Mühe looks a lot like Kevin Spacey and has the talent to boot.
Koch is also excellent in an equally leading role.
Little else needs to be said. This is one of the best foreign films of the year (though I'd argue that Pan's Labyrinth, the favorite to win Best Foreign Language Picture, is better) and deserves the recognition. Head out to your video store right now and pick this one up.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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