An impressively lean, thoroughly riveting thriller, “In the Shadows” slithers through underworld Berlin in grand style. En route to a twisty finale, German writer-director Thomas Arslan keeps his audience glued to the increasingly desperate actions of Trojan (stone-faced Misel Maticevic), a thirtysomething career criminal whose latest job slowly catches up with him. Arslan, as if pulling a sneaky heist himself, makes the most of quotidian details, a minimal budget and an 85-minute running time with no fat on the bone. Fests seeking a straight shot of genre entertainment would do well to shine a light on this one.
Immediately establishing its protagonist’s thousand-yard-stare intensity, the pic opens on Trojan, newly sprung from jail and casing the apartment building of the crime boss who owes him money from the job that landed him in the clink for a five-year stretch. Catching the boss off guard on his own turf, Trojan demands full payment and settles for €10,000 in cash plus a pistol. It’s no surprise when, a few scenes later, a pair of hitmen show up on Trojan’s doorstep. Nor is it a shock when Trojan, ruthless and exacting, turns his would-be assassination to his distinct advantage.
Set against the backdrop of a global recession that has hit not only honest working people, but crooks as well, “In the Shadows” scuttles between surreptitious meeting sites as Trojan tries to set up his next payday. Sporting a sixth sense for danger that’s acute only up to a point, Trojan pulls out of a jewel heist that would’ve put him in cahoots with a junkie and an alcoholic, but in the process inadvertently attracts the attention of a crooked cop (Uwe Bohm) who starts tailing Trojan’s old girlfriend, Dora (Karoline Eichhorn), with whom Trojan has been trying to set up an armored car robbery.
Arslan moves slyly from one scene of surveillance to another, begging his audience’s identification with various thugs, Trojan not least among them. Maticevic, rarely seen in closeup or speaking more than a few terse words at a time, nevertheless manages to gain our respect and even sympathy as Trojan brilliantly executes a heist whose messy details soon conspire to send him on the run.
Tech credits are stellar, topped by Reinhold Vorschneider’s simple but indelibly vivid cinematography, Bettina Blickwede’s sharp editing and Geir Jenssen’s wonderfully sparse and moody score.