Reviews - The Lives of Others (2006)
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The Lives of Others (2006)

Country: Germany

Genres: Drama, Thriller

Taglines: Where power is absolute, nothing is private. [Scandinavian Blu-ray.]

Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

Writers: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

Stars: Martina Gedeck, Ulrich Mühe, Sebastian Koch, Ulrich Tukur, ...

Gerd Wiesler is an officer with the Stasi, the East German secret police. The film begins in 1984 when Wiesler attends a play written by Georg Dreyman, who is considered by many to be the ultimate example of the loyal citizen. Wiesler has a gut feeling that Dreyman can't be as ideal as he seems and believes surveillance is called for. The Minister of Culture agrees but only later does Wiesler learn that the Minister sees Dreyman as a rival and lusts after his partner Christa-Maria. The more time he spends listening in on them, the more he comes to care about them. The once rigid Stasi officer begins to intervene in their lives, in a positive way, protecting them whenever possible. Eventually, Wiesler activities catch up to him and while there is no proof of wrongdoing, he finds himself in menial jobs - until the unbelievable happens.

100 | Anthony Lane

If there is any justice, this year's Academy Award for best foreign-language film will go to The Lives of Others, a movie about a world in which there is no justice.
Read More: The New Yorker

100 | A.O. Scott

The easy, complacent distance that informs much historical filmmaking is almost entirely absent from this supremely intelligent, unfailingly honest movie.
Read More: The New York Times


Rather than dwell on the darkness and squalor, von Donnersmarck has fashioned a genuinely thrilling tale, leavened with sly humor, that works ingenious variations on the theme of cat and mouse, speaks to current concerns about personal privacy and illuminates the timeless conflict between totalitarianism and art.

100 | Claudia Puig

A thoroughly compelling political thriller, at once intellectually challenging and profoundly emotional.
Read More: USA Today

100 | Ken Fox

A tense and tightly plotted fictional thriller is based on real tactics used by the Stasi -- East Germany's secret police force -- to spy on and interrogate their own citizens.
Read More: TV Guide Magazine

100 | Dana Stevens

It's an intricate, ambiguous and deeply satisfying movie, a tautly plotted tale of state surveillance and personal betrayal that ultimately becomes an ode to the transformative power of art.
Read More: Slate

100 | Richard Corliss

Smartly crafted, impeccably acted, The Lives of Others packs a subtle punch, from its creepy first images to its poignant finale.
Read More: Time

100 | Mick LaSalle

A great film, the best I've seen since Terrence Malick's "The New World," and far and away the richest and most brilliantly acted picture to be released this Oscar season.
Read More: San Francisco Chronicle

100 | Desson Thomson

To watch "Lives" is not just to enjoy a fabulously constructed timepiece; it's to appreciate a deft cautionary tale.
Read More: Washington Post

100 | Shawn Levy

It's so full-blooded, smart, sexy, tense and absorbing, so cleverly written and shot and cut, so filled with superb acting and music, so perfect in its closing moment, that it surely ranks with the most impressive debuts in world cinema.
Read More: Portland Oregonian

100 | Carrie Rickey

Lives is a best-foreign-film nominee competing in a year that at least three movies in this category are stronger than Oscar's best-picture contenders.
Read More: Philadelphia Inquirer

100 | Michael Sragow

The unique, serious fun of this movie - and forbidding reputation aside, it is exhilarating - lies in the way that Wiesler, Dreyman and Sieland end up collaborating unknowingly on their own Design for Living (for a while, it's like Noel Coward for moral cowards).
Read More: Baltimore Sun

100 | Matthew Sorrento

von Donnersmarck creates a milieu so realistic that the attention-worthy setting becomes just a backdrop, while an intricate tale, as suspenseful as it is humanistic, takes over.
Read More: Film Threat

100 | Alan Morrison

Already fêted, von Donnersmarck’s debut sets a closely focused, personal story against a more expansive backdrop of politics and power games -- a moving, enlightening tale of recent times.
Read More: Empire

100 | Roger Ebert

A powerful but quiet film, constructed of hidden thoughts and secret desires.
Read More: Chicago Sun-Times

91 | Lisa Schwarzbaum

Utterly riveting fictional drama.
Read More: Entertainment Weekly

90 | Kenneth Turan

It convincingly demonstrates that when done right, moral and political quandaries can be the most intensely dramatic dilemmas of all.
Read More: Los Angeles Times

90 | David Ansen

It's hard to believe this is von Donnersmarck's first feature. His storytelling gifts have the novelistic richness of a seasoned master. The accelerating plot twists are more than just clever surprises; they reverberate with deep and painful ironies, creating both suspense and an emotional impact all the more powerful because it creeps up so quietly.
Read More: Newsweek

90 | David Edelstein

Ulrich Mühe gives a marvelously self-contained performance. There isn't an ounce of fat on his body, or in his acting: He has pared himself down to a pair of eyes that prowl the faces of his character's countrymen for signs of arrogance--i.e., of independent thinking.
Read More: New York Magazine (Vulture)

90 | Stanley Kauffmann

Despite the fact that parts of this film remind us of past pictures with comparable themes, the director and his actors make it immediate, gripping.
Read More: The New Republic

89 | Josh Rosenblatt

Like all great screen performances, Mühe's magic comes out most in its tiniest moments: a raised eyebrow here, a slight upturn of the lips there. It's a triumph of muted grandeur; it's like watching someone being born.
Read More: Austin Chronicle

88 | Peter Travers

Von Donnersmarck has crafted the best kind of movie: one you can't get out of your head.
Read More: Rolling Stone

88 | James Berardinelli

With solid performances and a terrific screenplay, this movie offers solid, no-frills drama that feels organic and believable, not contrived.
Read More: ReelViews

88 | Glenn Kenny

von Donnersmarck delivers something extraordinary and rare: a thriller that's entirely adult in both its concerns and perspective which manages to be as thoroughly gripping as any finely tuned albeit adolescent Hollywood nail-biter.
Read More: Premiere

88 | Jack Mathews

Except for Hempf, every character is under incredible duress, and the performances are exceptional. With his first feature, an Oscar nominee for foreign-language film, von Donnersmarck has certainly left his mark.
Read More: New York Daily News

88 | Lou Lumenick

The skillfully acted and directed The Lives of Others is a timely warning about governments that seek to repress dissent.
Read More: New York Post

88 | Rick Groen

A movie that combines the Cold War intrigue of John Le Carré with the wired buzz of Francis Ford Coppola's "The Conversation" -- one of those rare two-hour-plus pictures that runs long but plays bracingly, excitingly short.
Read More: The Globe and Mail (Toronto)

88 | Michael Wilmington

Works beautifully, both as a social and psychological drama and as a taut, tightly wired thriller.
Read More: Chicago Tribune

88 | Ty Burr

The Lives of Others has similarities to Francis Ford Coppola's 1974 classic "The Conversation" but with undercurrents that resound across an entire century of European political history.
Read More: Boston Globe

88 | Rene Rodriguez

Beautifully textured and layered movie.
Read More: Miami Herald

83 | Peter Rainer

The director is fortunate to have cast actors who fully embody their roles. Muehe, who once played Josef Mengele in Costa-Gavras's "Amen," has the ability to let you see far beneath his masklike countenance. Koch, dashing and intense, is entirely believable as a man of the theater; Gedeck exudes a sensuousness that this covert society cannot abide.
Read More: Christian Science Monitor

83 | Sean Axmaker

Mühe's performance is brilliant, communicating more turmoil and pain with the droop of a lip and a flicker of the eye across an otherwise intently passive face than all the emotional storms of the cast.
Read More: Seattle Post-Intelligencer

80 | Eric Hansen

Starts out dark and challenging then comes to a startlingly satisfying and warmly human conclusion that lingers long after the curtain has come down.
Read More: The Hollywood Reporter

80 | Derek Elley

Superbly cast drama… that looks to be a solid upscale attraction wherever the special chemistry of good writing and performances is appreciated.
Read More: Variety

80 | Stephanie Zacharek

This is a teasingly complex political thriller, but it's also a sort-of romance.
Read More:

75 | Noel Murray

von Donnersmarck gives his debut feature, The Lives Of Others, no particular style, and the absence of visual risk-taking renders an exciting premise ponderous and stolid.
Read More: The A.V. Club

70 | J. Hoberman

A compelling thriller but an unsatisfying character drama.
Read More: Village Voice

70 | Jonathan Rosenbaum

The fictional story here, set between 1984 and 1991, focuses on the investigation of a popular and patriotic playwright (Sebastian Koch); that the captain assigned to his case (touchingly played by Ulrich Mühe) is mainly sympathetic and working surreptitiously on the playwright's behalf only makes this more disturbing.
Read More: Chicago Reader

50 | Scott Foundas

The Lives of Others wants us to see that the Stasi -- at least some of them -- were, like their Gestapo brethren, “just following orders." You can call that naive optimism on Donnersmarck's part, or historical revisionism of the sort duly lambasted by the current film version of Alan Bennett's "The History Boys." I, for one, tremble at the thought of what this young director does for an encore.
Read More: L.A. Weekly