Has Mr. Bean turned assassin? No. The hit man in this film isn't quite that Soundless, Appellate Judge James A. Stewart notes.
"What do you want from me, Viktor?"
If you haven't heard of Director Mennan Yapo yet, you may soon. He's recently wrapped Premonition, his first American thriller starring Sandra Bullock, for Hyde Park and TriStar Pictures. His slick cat-and-mouse thriller Soundless (Lautlos), with a touch of romance, was an official AFI Film Festival selection and a winner of the WorldFest Houston Platinum Award.
Facts of the Case
We see someone conducting an audio surveillance. Their target steps outside onto his patio and is shot by a masked man. He's not part of the surveillance team; when he goes inside his victim's house, the wiretappers still think he's the man they were keeping an ear on. The masked man is a cool customer; he even stops for a drink as a beautiful blonde sleeps nearby.
It's only the next morning when the blonde screams, having awakened in a strange house with a dead man on the patio after a one-night stand, that the surveillance team realizes that there's been a murder. They were police, checking out a colleague they found suspect—and now they're on the trail of an assassin.
Lang (Christian Berkel, Flightplan), a police inspector, starts to build a portrait of the assassin. While most hit men don't know much about their targets, this one learns all he can about his prey so he can find out just how to slip in and carry out the hit while remaining Soundless. That way, he can get past heavy security—and even police surveillance. Lang can only find one hit with an M.O. similar to the one he's investigating; then, the killer was only nine years old, exacting revenge on the murder of his parents. Has Lang got a portrait of the assassin as a young man?
Meanwhile, the assassin is following the beautiful blonde in question, Nina (Nadja Uhl, Das Wunder von Lengede/A Light in Dark Places), which puts him at the scene to rescue her when she takes a plunge off a bridge. His name is Viktor (Joachim Krol, Run Lola Run) and he wants to build a life with her, even as he's meticulously scoping out one last hit. Scarily, she feels the same way, even when she figures out what he does for a living in his current life.
Don't worry. Soundless isn't a silent movie, despite some stretches of silence as characters ponder their next move or the ambient sounds of rain tapping against a window or cars moving down the autobahn. There are quite a few montage sequences backed by music instead of words as Viktor plans a hit or Lang surveys a scene, though. Quick cuts, flashbacks, and interesting angles are everywhere; one of my favorite scenes drew me into Viktor's confusion through P.O.V. shots as he looked for Nina on the bridge and realized she had jumped. The story is stripped almost to the bone so that director Mennan Yapo can tell most of the story with visuals, but there are still a few plot points that come out in the dialogue.
As the assassin Viktor, Joaquim Krol says a lot without saying much, in keeping with his "soundless" character. Before catching up to Nina for a first date, he watches her at the nightclub, slipping away from the crowd as he struggles with his thoughts—shown by flashes of himself rescuing Nina from the water—before he walks up to her. We see that he's already developed feelings for her, something an assassin is never supposed to do.
Christian Berkel shares Viktor's meticulousness as he gets to know his quarry as Lang—a younger, cooler Columbo with a shaved scalp. Though they have no contact until the movie's nearly over, he studies Viktor the way Viktor studies his own targets, trying to learn everything about the assassin as if wishing to become "his best friend."
Nadja Uhl plays Nina as an aimless, unemployed woman who underreacts both to finding a body and to realizing that her lover is an assassin. When she decides to take action, she seems in some respects colder than Viktor himself.
The look of the film is great as it showcases the German landscape, both the busy city full of glass-and-steel high-rises and the gentle countryside. I couldn't find specs on the Dolby Digital sound, but ambient sound and music overlapping dialogue are handled gracefully.
The only extra here is the original German trailer, which only hints at the romantic turn that could bring down the assassin. It's a decent enough trailer, but a "making of" feature and some information on the people involved would have been nice.
The movie is unrated, with brief nudity and violent scenes that I'd guess would net it an R rating.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The story is stripped down almost to the bone. You get a lot of action and neat visuals, but you'll also have a few questions, like "How did Lang tie this one to a killing nearly 40 years ago by a nine-year-old so quickly?," "For that matter, why is Viktor still an assassin?," or "Why does Nina love Viktor, even with the realization that he could have killed her while she slept?" When things move so fast, you enjoy the ride…but it doesn't always make a lot of sense.
The story here is improbable—one wouldn't expect an assassin to linger by a pond to share romantic moments with a woman he might have killed when he's got a contract to fill and cops on his tail—but Soundless makes it work by keeping the action moving so you don't think about the holes. Its psychological underpinnings aren't executed perfectly, but they hold up well enough while the movie is in motion.
If you have a free evening, love thrillers, and don't mind subtitles, check this one out.
While guilty of concocting an improbable thriller, Director Mennan Yapo made his idea into an entertaining way to spend an evening. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Lorber
• German Theatrical Trailer
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