Berlin, the present. Recently out of prison Trojan is a professional criminal looking for his next big job. Meeting up with old contacts he soon hears of a job requiring three men, but upon learning that his colleagues are to be an alcoholic and a junkie he instantly jettisons it. Despite his careful actions and attempts to cover all his tracks rival crooks and a corrupt police detective are now separately tailing him. Meeting up with a female lawyer friend Trojan learns of a job stealing over a million Euros from a security van, the presumed ease of which has been revealed by one of the drivers who is willing to be “in” on the job. Requiring an extra man for the job he contacts a former associate, an older man, who consents to being involved. The policeman and rival gangsters observe the actions of those planning the heist. The job is carried out successfully with precision; Trojan and his older accomplice divide the bounty equally into four. Trojan delivers half to the lawyer who passes on the driver’s share. The policeman kills the driver taking his share after tailing him to his flat and the rival crooks kill the older man. The policeman follows Trojan to a hotel room; Trojan then kills him, before disposing of his body with the lawyer. Trojan retreating to his cabin hideout is then found by the rival crooks that he proceeds to kill. Returning from disposing of the bodies he sees policemen searching his cabin and runs away through the woods. Stealing a car from a garage he drives away presuming himself a fugitive.
The life and times of a criminal foot soldier is well-trodden film territory, yet stripped of it’s anti-hero themes, operatic tendencies and gratuitous violence Thomas Arslan offers something far more intriguing. A truly accomplished film for a relatively young director of four previous feature films, none of which receiving distribution in the UK. In the Shadows is set against a backdrop of post-industrial Berlin and explores the criminal underbelly of modern Germany, the nature of business and the dangers of working as a free-lance professional. In search of new leads on possible jobs with low risks and high reward upon his release from incarceration, Trojan, the classically pseudonymed crook, turns to former contacts and associates – as may any enthusiastic European job seeker in any line of work today – in the hope that something will present itself. The film, therefore, chimes as a parable of the post-industrial age where work is scarce and the markets are cutthroat. Sitting, as it does, within the bounds of an easily digestible genre and clearly honed realist stylistic constraints the film is wholly palatable and always believable.
Employing over 80 years worth of conventions generic to the gangster film Arslan takes a released convict, composites his outlook on life and professionalism towards his job, adds a delectable set of goons, and executes a well-polished heist. No time for cumbersome character development is afforded in the cold and corrupt mechanical business of this world. Nothing is revealed of the central protagonist, the leading lady or the shady police officer, yet their laconic, emotionless and inspired performances anchor the film in a strangely abstract realism. In the Shadows expands on the notion of moving the crime thriller away from romanticised image of the gangster. Never tempted into lazy flashbacks or montage it is within the palette of colours that this finely crafted film moves along. Highlighting the darkness of day and night, the inner city and the countryside; light fluorescent reds and yellows give way to cold claustrophobic greys and blues whilst sharply contrasting greens burst vividly onto the screen later in the film. It is often, however, the dark, deep, and, at times, black scenes that are most illuminating and effectively placed within the narrative; presumably a choice that dictated the title, or one that was dictated by the title.
Early in the film a central theme of paranoia is propagated through the inner city greys and blues, thus setting up the dynamic of the harsh realities of business and corruption and raising the element of trust in the settings of hotel rooms and BMWs to run down garages and lunch time coffee outlets. The freedom of a getaway cabin hideout is surrounded by blessed green foliage before gradually switching to a wet grey long shot in a climactic moment of pathetic fallacy. This transition sequence is particularly emblematic of the film’s style and flow.
A propulsive soundtrack lurks beneath the action. Gracefully sprinkled sparingly throughout at moments of heightened tension, yet we are never fully submerged in the throbbing percussive bass or dissonant chords as may have been tempting and as would be expected with any of its Hollywood counterparts. Instead subtlety and craftsmanship are the factors that provide the intrigue. All too often the implication of craftsmanship suggests something ‘soulless’ within criticism, however, what is presented here is a well-cultivated exposé on the current business climate, equating crime to any other modern industry, in a film that is precisely crafted, excellently paced and competent in its execution.