Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
By now, audiences have seen almost every story there is when it comes to Auschwitz’s prison camp. Nevertheless, Germany – more specifically director Giulio Ricciarelli – has yet another perspective to tell with LABYRINTH OF LIES, their official Oscar selection. The film, while commercially accessible and moderately interesting, is unfortunately perfectly forgettable. It’s ironic since the melodrama forces us to remember the crimes of the past.
It’s 1958 in Frankfurt, Germany and no one in the country wants to talk about the atrocities that took place during WWII. In fact, leaders have tried to cover it up from citizens with candy-coated propaganda, tucking the National Socialist regime’s major players away in positions of power and/ or completely hiding them. That’s where we find young, idealistic prosecutor Johann Radmann (Alexander Fehling, a.k.a. Christopher Nolan and Josh Charles’ hybrid). Though he’s only recently been appointed to the job, thanks to journalist Thomas Gnielka (André Szymanski), he stumbles into a case much bigger than any he’s encountered before – one that will open up wounds of the past and the eyes of a nation. The pair come across documents that help initiate a trial against the SS guards who lorded over Auschwitz. Johann’s boss, General Fritz Bauer (Gert Voss), encourages him to dig deeper, but the cloud of secrecy becomes thick with lies. As madness sets in around the case, from which his girlfriend Marlene Wondrak (Friederike Becht, a.k.a. German Rose Byrne) can’t rescue him, Johann chases ghosts in order to bring the truth to light.
Ricciarelli’s film has a slick, polished quality – only there’s nothing that really stands out about it. The script, written with Elizabeth Bartel, treads a predictable path. It gets audiences to think about that time in history – a time filled with repression, denial and conspiracy theories – but there’s no pressing thrill and no percolating intensity. It’s too heavy-handed for its own good. There’s one funny visual gag with a former SS guard giving candy to a small child. However, the rest are leaden from all the symbolism; from Johann’s dream that Dr. Joseph Mengele is his father, to the close-up of the roast pig at the fat-cat lawyer dinner, to the ripping of Marlene’s candy colored dress (it’s their relationship torn apart by his case!). I mean, at least it’s arty about it.
Roman Osin and Martin Langer’s cinematography earns top marks – as does Manfred Döring’s art direction, Janina Jaensch’s set decoration, and Aenne Plaumann’s costume design. The film score blessedly doesn’t intrude or call attention to itself, successfully folding into the narrative. Performances from the entire ensemble are solid, but again, nothing to really write home about.
LABYRINTH OF LIES opened in New York and Los Angeles on September 25, and will have a slow roll-out release.