Phantom Pain -- Film Review

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TORONTO -- "Phantom Pain" is very much a vehicle for Germany's reigning male star, Til Schweiger, who gets to do it all: show off a perfectly sculpted body, project virile male charisma, dominate a movie but share individual scenes gracefully with its cast and display a range of emotions that anticipates the awards season.

This is star power without apology or, fortunately, self-indulgence. As a feel-good film, "Phantom" might be a little too conventional for North American art houses, so domestic audiences might continue to know Schweiger better from co-starring roles in films like "Inglourious Basterds." This is not an adventurous film, so its selection by Toronto programmers as a Gala presentation is surprising.

The story, which Matthias Emcke wrote and directs in a proficient feature debut, is based on the life of Canadian Steven Somner, a bicycling enthusiast who lost a leg in a road accident but came back with an artificial limb to a life that continues to center on his love for cycling.

In Emcke's retelling, Marc Somners -- now a German -- is a magnetic loner, a guy who charms beautiful women and draws a crowd whenever he spins a tall tale. Nonetheless, he prefers the open road to human company and gainful employment, challenging the toughest mountain trails on his bike, free from care and commitment.

He gives more love and attention to that bike than he does to his young daughter, Sarah (Luna Schweiger, the actor's daughter), or Nika (the lovely Jana Pallaske), a woman he might love if he allowed himself.

The movie spends a good while establishing Marc's nature before his life is forever changed. His demons owe much to a late father, who abandoned the family when Marc was four and drifted in and out of his life thereafter. Although Marc continued to worship him, he was forced to witness his slow demise through alcohol.

It's Sarah who talks her father into amputating his left leg -- his very life depends on it -- when Marc is brought out of an induced coma following the accident. He struggles to reclaim his life as a best mate (Stipe Erceg) and his wife offer plenty of support and Nika urges him to develop his storytelling skills further. Her gift to him is a fountain pen.

But Marc continues to resist her advice and his growing affection for her. When he finally does take up the pen -- in what is the movie's first scene as the story is told in flashback -- he writes about his dad.

So "Phantom" is a comeback story, well-told and well acted but without any special insights into that experience. The path to physical and spiritual redemption is always clear, so the outcome never is in doubt. All tech credits are fine, but you do wish the film had hit a couple of unexpected bumps in the road.

Production: Film1 GmbH & Co KG/ Warner Bros. Entertainment GmbH/Barefoot Films GmbH/Neue Bioskop Film Produktions & Vertriebs GmbH
Cast: Til Schweiger, Jana Pallaske, Stipe Erceg, Luna Schweiger, Julia Brendler
Director-screenwriter: Matthias Emcke
Producers: Sebastian Zuhr, Henning Ferber, Marcus Welke Director of photography: Ngo The Chau
Production designer: Ralf Kufner
Music: Martin Todsharow
Costume designer: Beate Scheel
Editor: Martina Matuschawski
Sales: Bavaria Film International
No rating, 98 minutes
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