Robert Schwentke's sleek, chilling "Tattoo" lets us know from its opening shot of a young woman running naked along dark Berlin streets, blood streaming down her back, that we're in for strong stuff.
The film is an engrossing and original police procedural of bleak, steel-gray images and high style. But be warned: as part of its complex, ever-unfolding plot, it is punctuated with some grisly images. In a commanding feature debut, Schwentke never lingers morbidly over them, but they're jolters all the same.
Marc Schrader (August Diehl), a recent police academy graduate who barely passed, is an indifferent, aimless young rookie when he's teamed with Minks (Christian Redl), a tough veteran police detective with a personal tragedy in his past that tempts him to take the law into his own hands.
The two men are swiftly caught up in a bizarre serial murder case that will transform the immature and naive Marc beyond his imagining and will hold the tantalizing possibility of redemption for Minks, who beneath a scary, somber facade is a decent and dedicated man.
The film plunges us into the dark underworld of admirers of tattoo art whose passion knows no limits. "Tattoo" is the kind of clever and provocative film whose unpredictable plot should not be further revealed. The monster in this movie, it can be said, has sophisticated tastes; those whose tattoos run to hearts with "Mother" inscribed on them would have nothing to fear. Even so, "Tattoo" makes us think twice about the implications of the familiar notion of life being brief and transitory while art is for the ages.
In understated portrayals, Diehl and Redl are effective at revealing two men undergoing change and head a solid cast that includes Nadeshda Brennicke as an enigmatic blond who looks to be the serial killer's next intended victim.
"Tattoo" takes place in a vast, impersonal, metropolis so modern it could easily be set in the future. The Berlin of this film is entirely that of stark contemporary structures and streetscapes, of freeways, trendy clubs and chic minimalist interiors. It is the coldly perfect backdrop for a crazed passion expressed with ruthless, sadistic precision.
MPAA rating: Unrated
Times guidelines: Brief images of extreme violence, adult themes, some sex. Not for the faint of heart.
August Diehl ... Marc Schrader
Christian Redl ... Minks
Nadeshda Brennicke ... Maya Kroner
An American Cinematheque Presents/Vitagraph Films release of a Lounge Entertainment production, co-produced by Studiocanal and B.A Produktion. Writer-director Robert Schwentke. Producers Roman Kuhn, Jan Hinter. Executive producer Verena Herfurth. Cinematographer Jan Fehse. Editor Peter Przygodda. Costumes Peri de Bragança. Production designer Josef Sanktjohanser. In German, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
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