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An engaging, if never fully engrossing, conspiracy thriller where two dogged journos take on Germany’s vast military-industrial complex, Christoph Hochhausler’s The Lies of Victors (Die Lugen der Sieger) is a decent addition to a genre made famous nearly four decades ago by Alan J. Pakula’s All the President’s Men, and whose latest incarnations include State of Play and the Netflix series House of Cards.
Mining similar material to his 2010 Un Certain Regard entry The City Below, Hochhausler casts an even wider net this time, focusing on a pair of investigative reporters tracking the backhanded dealings of evil corporations and corrupt officials, although the bad guys always seem to be one step ahead of everyone else. Downbeat and a bit scattershot, but also well acted and energetically helmed, this Rome fest selection should see art house action in Europe, with additional VOD stints abroad.
Fabian Groys (Florian David Fitz) is one of the star newshounds at the fictitious Berlin-based magazine Die Woche (The Week), where he’s already received major kudos for his coverage of the war in Afghanistan. Every journalist needs an addiction, and Fabian’s soft spot is the craps table (with a bit of drinking thrown in), for which he owes a hefty debt that can only be paid off by putting his vintage Porsche in hock.
Otherwise, Fabian’s as committed as they come, especially now that he’s onto a new story involving a batty war veteran who literally fed himself to the lions at the zoo, and who was employed at a toxic waste company which seems to be toeing the regulations line. As it happens, the German parliament is in the process of voting in an environmental bill to meet new EU standards, and the company’s bullish CEO (Gottfried Breitfuss) now needs to do all he can to stop Fabian from prying too far.
It’s a fairly classic setup underlining the collusion between ministry and industry, although Hochhausler and co-writer Ulrich Peltzer throw a few bogies our way, giving the corporate baddies enough technical wizardly to take the upper-hand at almost every step. They also toss in a potential love interest in the form of Nadja (Lilith Stangenberg), a svelte young intern working as Fabian’s assistant, and for whom the seasoned reporter begins to fall for in his own offhanded way.
While the story generally remains intriguing, even if the message is nothing new (i.e. Big Business = Satan), Hochhausler adds plenty of stylistic flourishes to keep up the pace, with DP Reinhold Vorschneider (The Robber) constantly pivoting his camera back and forth, or in 360° circles, to provide a flurry of movement in front of the lens. With whiplash cutting by Stefan Stabenow (In Bloom) and an atonal jazzy score by Benedikt Schiefer, the film’s aesthetics can be jarring at times, adding a certain level of intensity yet also distancing us from the action.
This is clearly the effect Hochhausler is going for, and he does manage to capture something about the frenzied world where big money and journalism collide – no better than in the extended sequence where Fabian’s article is submitted to his boss (Horst Kotterba) for editing, fact checking and legal approval. But even if the plot points are intelligently dished out, the characters remain somewhat obtuse, especially the various corporate henchman to whom the movie devotes too much screen time.
Performances are strong throughout, with Fitz (Jesus Loves Me) aptly portraying a hardworking newsie who constantly lives on the edge, yet seems incapable of genuine human contact. Holed up and hungover in his shadowy Berlin flat, Florian often recalls Harry Caul in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation – another ‘70s conspiracy classic that Hochhasuler references, no more so than when he turns the camera round and round, revealing a man caught alone in a maelstrom of deception.
Production companies: Heimatfilm
Cast: Florian David Fitz, Lilith Stangenberg, Horst Kotterba, Ursina Lardi, Avred Birnbaum
Director: Christoph Hochhausler
Screenwriters: Ulrich Peltzer, Christoph Hochhausler
Producer: Bettina Brokemper
Director of photography: Reinhold Vorscheider
Production designer: Renate Schmaderer
Costume designer: Peri de Braganca
Editor: Stefan Stabenow
Composer: Benedikt Schiefer
Casting director: Ulrike Muller
Sales agent: The Match Factory
No rating, 112 minutes
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