Two men drive through a German suburb, furtively glancing out their car’s windows; even before we realize that Peer (Ulrich Thomsen) and Timo (Wotan Wilke Möhring) share an unholy common interest, the predatory vibe is unmistakable. A crime is committed that haunts the region for decades. Then, 23 years later, an identical atrocity occurs in the exact same spot, which sends shuddering reverberations among a handful of folks: the first victim’s mother (Katrin Sass); the veteran detective who handled the old case (Burghart Klaussner); his younger, damaged cohort (Sebastian Blomberg); and Timo himself, still sickened over his participation in that past trampling of innocence.
Unhealthily obsessive cops, grieving parents, the murder of a minor: If director Baran bo Odar’s multistrand whodunit sounds a lot like TV’s The Killing, albeit without the dystopic downpours, you’re on the right track. (Given the original 2007 Danish series’s popularity throughout Europe and the inclusion of Denmark’s Clooneyish star Thomsen, the show’s influence feels positively embedded in the movie’s DNA.) But it’s the way that the filmmaker juggles the well-worn genre elements and intertwined narratives so deftly and with such visual panache—those god’s-eye viewpoint shots!—that turns this procedural retread into a first-rate thriller. Whether it’s defensible to exploit pedophilia for such big-screen nail-biting, compelling or otherwise, is debatable, especially once the movie reveals a sort of perverse love story simmering beneath its serial-killer–drama exterior. Yet as a macro- to micro-exploration of guilt—over giving in to sexual deviancy, its use as a psychological crutch or as something that keeps grief from transforming into closure—The Silence speaks volumes.
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