A corporate headhunter battling alcoholism and marital problems suffers a literal and figurative meltdown while on the job in “Houston,” the second feature from German helmer-scribe Bastian Gunther (“Autopilots”). This odd, tonally all-over-the-map drama proves less intriguing in its narrative than in its visuals, thanks to seductive 35mm lensing by Michael Kotschi, who finds inspiration in the isolation of modern life and in America’s open plains, mirror-paned skyscrapers and identical-looking hotel corridors. Fest play and home formats rep the most likely form of offshore distribution.Sent from rainy Germany to sizzling hot Houston to secretly recruit an American petroleum company CEO for a job in Deutschland, Clemens Trunschka (Ulrich Tukur, effectively cast against type) tries almost every trick in the book, but can’t get a meeting with his well-shielded target. Just as he seems to hit rock-bottom in his work and personal life, a bit of blackmail works wonders. Garret Dillahunt injects a note of comic desperation as the over-friendly, garrulous hotel denizen who continually interrupts Trunschka’s plans. Tech package is first-rate, particularly the cinematography, which portrays the American landscape as both awesome and grotesque.
A Lichtblick Media production, in co-production with SWR, HR, in collaboration with Cinepostproduction, with backing from BKM, FFA, DFFF, Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, Film- and Medienstiftung NRW. (International sales: HanWay Films, London.) Produced by Martin Heisler, Joachim Ortmanns, Anne Walker-McBay. Directed, written by Bastian Gunther.
Camera (color, widescreen), Michael Kotschi; editor, Anne Fabini; music, Michael Rother; production designers, Christiane Krumwiede, Jeff Hartmann; costume designers, Susa Sasserath, Rona Lamont; sound, Christoph Schilling, Martin Pedersen. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (World Cinema -- competing), Jan. 23, 2013. Running time: 107 MIN.
Ulrich Tukur, Garret Dillahunt, Wolfram Koch, Jenny Schily, Jason Douglas, Jens Munchow. (English, German dialogue)