MGM // 2005 // 127 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Neal Solon (Retired) // November 15th, 2005
"Your days of plenty are numbered."
A second-time director; the star of an unexpected, breakout, German hit film from 2002; and a novel idea: is this a recipe for success? It could be, if only the cook knew what to do with the ingredients.
Peter (Stipe Erceg) and Jan (Daniel Brühl, Good Bye Lenin!) call themselves the Edukators. They get their kicks by breaking into rich people's houses and rearranging everything inside, taking nothing but leaving a note that reads, "Your days of plenty are numbered." They figure that this scares the wealthy more than a commonplace burglary, because burglaries are to be expected. But someone breaking in just to leave social commentary -- now that's just unsettling. Everything is going as planned until Peter goes on vacation and leaves his girlfriend, Jule (Julia Jentsch, Downfall), behind with Jan. Jule is in serious financial trouble, and, in an attempt to cheer her up, Jan lets her in on the secret of the Edukators. Suddenly, the Edukators are not just about a political message; they are about revenge, love, and lust. Of course, with these emotions in the mix, everything goes a bit awry.
After watching a film, letting it sit in one's mind for a day or two often allows thoughts and opinions of it to gel. Artful and failed themes of masterpieces and bombs, respectively, become more apparent. Even mindless, popcorn flicks become memories of a pleasant viewing experience. What does it say, then, when a film leaves no impression; when the best one can conjure up is that the idea that is the basis for the film was clever? What ever it says, this is exactly what happened with Hans Weingartner's The Edukators. The idea at its center is genius: postmodern revolutionaries who steal and damage nothing, but play mind games with the wealthy instead. The execution, however, is lackluster. So one is left wondering whether watching the film was a good thing, a bad thing, or if such a judgment matters at all.
As discussed, The Edukators centers on a group of self-proclaimed radicals. Sadly, rather than focusing on their methods or their disaffection, the film focuses on the influence of mundane factors such as revenge, jealousy, and girls. In essence, the film abandons its unique and interesting characteristics to explore those that are the focus of most films, and to do so in a very typical way. Caught in the middle of a love triangle, a kidnapping, and a partially-realized case of Stockholm Syndrome, the protagonists are forced to choose between self-interest and some greater good -- but this, too, is typical. Film characters always have to choose between self-service and "the right thing to do;" the Edukators are no different.
When the film does finally decide to refocus on the Edukators' political ideas, the viewer is left disinclined to care or to take most of the actions on the screen at face value. Jan and Jules get caught in the subversive act by a man named Hardenberg (Burghart Klaußner, Good Bye Lenin!). Hardenberg knows Jule because she totaled his car a while back and owes him nearly a hundred thousand dollars. Having been identified, Jan, Jule, and Peter kidnap the man and take him to a cabin in the country. While there, Jan tries to indoctrinate Hardenberg; to convince him of the error of his ways. He soon learns, however, that Hardenberg was a leftist radical himself thirty years ago. Hardenberg is sympathetic, but he has grown up and considers the transformation that made him into a conservative a necessary one.
Whether Hardenberg's stories are true is never quite clear. He seems quite at home in the country away from the comforts of his home, yet he seems to be constantly posturing in a way meant to pit the Edukators against each other. His convincing stories may just be a product of his years as a corporate chameleon, casting himself in a light that is pleasing to those with power over him. In the end, though, it doesn't really matter. Hardenberg's tactics begin to work and he makes it home in one piece. All that remains to be seen is whether The Edukators will do the same. Unfortunately, the suspense is killed by the fact that the film fails to emotionally invest the audience in the lives or the actions of the protagonists.
As a technical presentation, the film fares a little better. The German surround sound audio track makes good use of the surround speakers for the music and effects and the characters are always clear and audible. The soundtrack is, actually, rather engaging and adds a lot to the film. The movie itself was shot on digital video and looks solid, and suffers only from a few sloppy edits and occasionally dark colors. Beyond the transfers, it seems that MGM was reluctant to invest any money in the DVD presentation. There are no relevant extras on the disc, just a few trailers for other MGM films.
The Edukators is a missed opportunity. To come up with a great idea like "socialist radicals who break into houses only to rearrange the belongings of the wealthy and leave notes foretelling the end of their material wealth," and then squander that idea on ordinary explorations of ordinary themes, is criminal. The Edukators isn't a bad film, it just leaves one cold. Its approach to mundane themes isn't exceptional enough to make the film anything more than ordinary.
While the actions of those involved in the making of The Edukators may be disappointing, they are not criminal. Accordingly, all parties are free to go. Just know that a pattern of such behavior will reflect poorly should any involved parties appear before this court again. Case dismissed!
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (German)
Running Time: 127 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Official Site