Cinema Review: Victoria | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Wednesday, February 26th, 2020  


Studio: Adopt Films
Directed by Sebastian Schipper

Oct 13, 2015 Web Exclusive
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A spontaneous night out with some mischievous Berliners turns into a horrifically-botched bank heist for Victoria, a Spanish expat for whom this gripping German thriller is named after. The lonely protagonist meets those ruffians at a dingy nightclub, and together they wreak some gleefully harmless havoc on Berlin’s sprawling streets. But that light, delinquent fun is stopped in short order, when one of her newfound friend’s gang affiliations draw them all into a caper that they’re ill-equipped to deal with. However, Victoria proves to be a quick learner, and before the credits roll she’ll commit even more ruthless acts than the gangster who entrapped them.

The title character’s willful amorality is meant to provide this tightly-wound heist flick’s biggest twist. But instead of thrills, Victoria’s peak of depravity in nothing short of despicable, stretching not only the protagonist’s believability, but also the plot’s credulity. We won’t spoil that climactic moment, but let’s just say it involves her exploitation of the most vulnerable members of society. All this from a naive, sheltered expat who was dancing by her lonesome in a nightclub a mere few hours before. That’s not the only plot hole that will distract audiences from this otherwise finely crafted thriller. In fact, the narrative’s first gaping void of logic happens earlier, when Victoria— who is drop-dead gorgeous— pays any heed at all to the advances of one of these knuckleheads, named Sonne, or “Sun.” When she agrees to accompany him and his motley crew of mates— the gorilla-esque “Boxer", the flamboyant "Blinker" and the comparatively forgettable "Fuss" (foot) audiences are left to wonder why she would waste her time with such losers, let alone, as a young woman, risk tagging along with four rowdy male strangers. However, the charismatic cast’s highly believable performances, which have the tossed off tone of improvisation, make this slightly far fetched scenario believable. And thanks to director Sebastian Schipper’s intimate shooting style, which is conducted in one long, single take, viewers are all the more drawn in as Victoria and the boys shoplift, guzzle booze on the streets and sneak onto a rooftop. A particularly moving scene, where Sonne lies about playing piano to impress Victoria, only to have her explain that wasted much of her youth with classical pianist training, explains some of the film’s lapsed logic— perhaps this is a naive, sheltered woman, deprived of her childhood, who is longing to not only make a meaningful connection with a true friend or charming lover, but also act out and rebel with brave abandon.

Still, her melancholic background doesn’t really justify her willingness to go along with the boys’ hapless bank heist, and it certainly doesn’t explain why she resorted to the aforementioned shameless degree of depravity, rather surrender to the police who are hot on their tail. Again, we won’t spoil horrific lengths she goes to in the climax, but trust us, you’ll know what we’re referring to when you see it, and it will disgust you to the point of almost shutting the film off. Despite that inept bit of screenwriting, audiences will be unable to look away because of two things: the cast’s enthralling commitment to the material, and Schipper’s breathlessly gripping direction, which invokes the shaky handheld style of Paul Greengrass and the grittiness of Steven Soderbergh, while surpassing both auteurs’ thresholds for tension and breathless suspense. Indeed, Schipper’s shooting of the heist— when Victoria struggles to start their getaway car—or the ensuing chase with the police—who are hot enough on their heels to make the audience feel the characters’ heaving panting— helps Victoria not only overcome its weak script, but also make the film one of 2015’s very best thrillers, when it could easily sank to depraved sleaze in the hands of a lesser director. It’s a shame that the screenwriters weren’t equally up to the task at hand, otherwise Victoria wouldn’t have just been fantastically, but glaringly flawed, thriller—instead it would have reached its potential as an absolute classic.

Author rating: 7/10

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