Asleazeball lawyer ends up trapped by his own prison stunt in “14 Days to Life,” a smoothly directed, well-scripted prison pic that slips its moorings only in the final reels. Handsome lensing and a well-textured lead perf by star Kai Wiesinger, better known for lighter roles, make this a solid item in markets receptive to non-arty German cinema. Richard Gere would slip easily into a U.S. remake.
Konrad (Wiesinger) is an arrogant careerist with a beautiful fiancee (Sylvia Leifheit) who’s the justice minister’s daughter and a lifestyle that’s fueled by money, sex and drugs. Considering himself almost above the law he practices, he arranges amid much press coverage to serve a prison sentence of 14 days for unpaid parking tickets, casually continuing his business from his prison cell.
But Konrad’s disdain for his fellow prisoners — a motley collection of murderers and rapists — rebounds on him: Just when he’s about to be released, cocaine is found in his cell, and he’s sent down for two years, sans parole. Deserted by his fiancee and equally ambitious partner (Axel Milberg), and near-raped and killed by other prisoners, Konrad gradually forms an alliance with hard-as-nails lifer Czernetzky (Michael Mendl) and a friendly prison psych (Katharina Meinecke) in order to bust out and prove his innocence of the drugs charge.
Wiesinger manages the transformation from yuppie slicker to humbled inmate with considerable skill, without losing the character’s core of ruthlessness. As a result, his scenes with Mendl (subtly underplaying the tough con) come off as a power play among equals that turns into a wary friendship which powers the movie. Aided by superb cinematography by d.p. Martin Langer that’s all steely blues, grays and browns, immaculately composed in widescreen, helmer Roland Suso Richter (returning to the bigscreen after a long spell in TV) creates a genuinely dramatic frame for the story that loses its tension and believability only in an over-neat finale and wrap-up. Aside from Meinecke’s underwritten shrink, other roles are well drawn and played.