The Counterfeiters

2009-02-06 12:39
What it's about:

Master counterfeiter Solly Sorowitsch (Karl Markovics) lives the high life in Germany, until he is arrested shortly before war erupts in 1939. He is sent from prison to the concentration camps, but is selected by the Nazis for a special operation to forge the British pound and theoretically weaken Britain’s economy. Solly and his fellow forgers live in luxury compared to the other inmates, but are well aware that they are only being kept alive as long as the project lasts. To add to his troubles, there are those amongst the forgers who would rather die than aid the Nazi war effort.

What we thought of it:

For a movie about little-known events during World War 2, The Counterfeiters tells its story from the not-often-seen perspective of the privileged prisoner, housed in comparative luxury mere metres away from those being kept like abused animals. The counterfeiting project is also an interesting footnote in history, and the story should interest both WW2 aficionados and historical movie buffs.

Karl Markovics is definitely one of the film’s great assets, as he is not only a very convincing actor, but has one of the saddest faces around, that immediately lends all his scenes plenty of dramatic weight. Playing a sleazy, self-serving character like Solly, it would have been very easy for the character to come across as unlikable, but Markovics manages to keep a very believable balance between the chancer and the man who finds hidden depths of compassion in the face of atrocity.

The main problem Solly faces, and the main thrust of the film, is the battle between morality and self preservation. Solly uses all his wits and cunning to keep himself alive, but is gradually affected by the plight of those around him. His fellow prisoner, the fiery Adolf Burger (August Diehl) wants nothing more than to rebel and die fighting against his captors – a sentiment echoed by fairly few of his fellows, despite their clear hatred of the Nazis.

In the face of such courage and conviction, compliance with the Nazis would seem almost criminal, but the constant horror of the death camps is barely more than an arm’s length away. You are forced to experience the prisoners' ghastly charade of a life where they are treated like human beings as long as their skills are useful, while their unlucky brothers are worked to death just outside their door, making the "selfish" choices understandable, if not forgivable.

The Counterfeiters isn't particularly fast paced, but it never bores. The focus on Solly’s duplicitous relationship with his fellow prisoners and his captors is engrossing, as all the characters feel like real people, and the story never strains credibility in any way. This realism lends the movie gravitas, and will no doubt leave a lasting impression on the audience. A rewarding viewing experience.

- Ivan Sadler

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The true story of the Nazis' attempt to mass produce fake allied currency during WW2 as seen through the eyes of the Jewish prisoners forced to work for them.

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