It's hard to fault the stars in this sombre drama about an ordinary German couple who turn their backs on the Fascist regime in Berlin, 1940. While Alone in Berlin never quite takes off, the ever reliable Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson turn in solid and moving performances and give this true story the respect it deserves.
Gleeson and Thompson are Otto and Anna Quangel, a working class couple doing their best to survive the war - that is, until their only child is killed on the front line. Devastated and enraged, Otto channels his grief into writing anonymous postcards filled with anti-Nazi sentiments. Placed in public places and government buildings, his quiet protest begins to unnerve the regime, and police inspector Escherich (Daniel Brühl) is charged with hunting the culprit down.
French actor-turned-director Vincent Perez captures the paranoia felt by the ordinary Germans of the time, and their fear that at any time their neighbours or colleagues could denounce them as anti-Nazi.
There's an underlying tension throughout, but what's missing is the heightened emotional ebb and flow that would have delivered a truly haunting story. Other than a few close calls as Otto and Anna distribute the cards, there's little development to their story until the conclusive final act.
To be fair, Perez seems more interested in presenting the characters truthfully rather than embellishing for entertainment's sake. Unfortunately, this makes for a dullish, rather predictable film which feels longer than its running time.
To the good, the chemistry between Gleeson and Thompson is excellent, and the production handsomely crafted. The freedom of speech theme has relevance today, and the quiet bravery of this normal couple makes for worthy subject matter.
It's just a pity Perez's understated approach doesn't do their story justice.
Brendan Gleeson, Emma Thompson
A handsome, but lackluster drama.