Three’s a Crowd
|Starring:||Daniel Bruhl, Julia Jentsch, Stipe Erceg, Burghart Klaussner|
Hans Weingartner’s “The Edukators” is an infectious, spirited film undone by a laborious third act, which regrettably turns into a marathon of dialogue. The movie’s beating political heart is encased in the framework of an awkward story, shifting between thriller and melodrama without ever finding a clear focus. Solid performances and appealing visuals (especially for digital video) help compensate for the movie’s shortcomings.
Jan (“Goodbye Lenin’s” Daniel Bruhl) and Peter (Stipe Erceg) fashion themselves as a revolutionary duo who work under the moniker The Edukators. The two target the extravagant homes of Germany’s financial elite as venues to exhibit what in effect is their performance art. They break into these estates, re-arrange/damage the furniture and leave behind such slogans as “Your Days of Plenty are Numbered,” although they don’t actually steal anything.
Peter’s girlfriend Jule (Julia Jentsch) is also a political activist, but she’s forced to toil away at a thankless waitressing job to help pay for the damages she inflicted on a wealthy man named Hardenberg’s (Burghart Klaussner) Mercedes. Jule’s constant exposure to the rich patrons of the bourgeois restaurant only heightens her anti-capitalist stance.
When Peter goes on vacation and asks Jan to look after Jule, the situation becomes complicated. Jan betrays his friend on two counts — he reveals the secret of The Edukators to Jule and also begins to fall romantically for the young woman. Things get more out of hand when Jan and Jule break into Hardenberg’s house one night only to realize the following day they left a cell phone behind. Returning to the home that evening, Jan and Jule retrieve the phone, but also cross paths with Hardenberg who has just come back from a trip.
Weingartner sets the story up a bit too neatly. The various plot twists feel manipulated and when it’s revealed — after the young trio decides to abduct Hardenberg — that the middle aged man was himself a revolutionary in the 1960s, the writer/director appears unable to get out of his own way. As Hardenberg shares more about his past with the group, who, in return, browbeat him with their anti-materialist rhetoric, the life is quickly drained from this film, which should really play out with a whole lot more tension.
Although the filmmaker clearly sides with the beliefs of his protagonists, he draws honest portraits of them. Their flaws are readily on display, and Weingartner confronts the reality that all too often radicals mellow with age and join the other side. This is certainly an intelligent, perceptive movie, but like its energetic young central characters, its ideas are in need of a better vehicle for expression. The give-and-take dynamic between the captors and their victim is much too familiar and clichéd.
The acting, however, is excellent, and Daniel Bruhl’s good looks and charisma should pave the way for an exciting career. Bruhl and Julia Jentsch make their characters extremely likable, and one wishes the writer/director would have added layers to their relationship. Although love triangles are usually dodgy cinematic propositions, Weingartner could’ve gotten a lot more mileage out of it here. And more attention to that aspect of the story would have helped save the leaden third act.
While containing some worthy qualities, “The Edukators,” which races out of the starting block so vigorously, falls disappointingly flat by its conclusion.