Based on a Martin Prinz novel (which was itself based on a true story), The Robber stars Andreas Lust as a champion long-distance runner who moonlights as a thief, and dedicates himself intensely to both pursuits. While training for a race, Lust consults with doctors and scientists, studying videotape and biometrics to improve his stride. And when he returns home from a heist, one of the first things he does is check his heart monitor, to see if his numbers spiked unduly during the job. He doesn’t really care about the money: He stows it all in a trash bag under his bed. It’s just a way of keeping score.
Lust’s character in The Robber is familiar from European crime movies: He’s the stoic loner who doesn’t say much, lest he inadvertently reveal some kind of motivation. When he robs banks, he wears a thin mask that doesn’t look all that different from his face, and when he goes on a date with his caseworker, Franziska Weisz, he’s more amused by her reaction to a movie than he is by the movie itself. To make a protagonist this blank engaging, a filmmaker needs the artistry of Jean-Pierre Melville, or the kineticism of William Friedkin. The Robber’s writer-director, Benjamin Heisenberg, has neither.
Still, The Robber does pick up some steam toward the end, once Weisz discovers Lust’s secret and the authorities begin to close in. Roughly the last half-hour of the movie features Lust on the run, in the streets and in the woods, putting his conditioning and training to use while trying to avoid the scores of policemen and helicopters sweeping the area. It’s all suitably tense, as what was an intellectual/physical exercise for Lust comes to actually matter. It might’ve mattered to the audience too, if we had any inkling from the first hour of The Robber who this guy is, or why we should care what happens to him.