Teutonic Se7en-esque thriller. Enjoyable for what it is but may wear its influences too obviously for some.
The phrase 'European cinema' so frequently refers to a French film it's occasionally easy to forget that other countries on the continent knock a few out too. The last film to emerge from Germany for a U.K. wide cinema release was the relatively recent and relatively good Good bye, Lenin!, and now it's joined by an altogether darker film. Tattoo is a bleakly shot and mildly gritty thriller with a pretty distasteful subject matter that's often compared with Se7en, largely because it steals a few ideas from it blatantly towards the final acts. This may disturb the overly copyright control sensitive amongst us, but for the majority of the populace it ought not to spoil an atmospheric whodunit that's only real weak point is the predictability of the climax.
Marc Schrader (August Diehl) is a bit of a club kid. He's rather fond of the accoutrements that go with the lifestyle, such as glowsticks and ecstasy. The conflicts of interest inherent in consuming illegal drugs while also graduating from police academy are shown into sharp focus when one of their illegal warehouse raves is raided by the fuzz lead by the gruff and unconventional Minks (Christian Redl). While Marc escapes with his skin he leaves behind his jacket, replete with his police I.D. card and some tablets a little more powerful than paracetamol. While this is enough to have him drummed out of the force Minks makes an unusual choice of requesting that the underachieving laddie be transferred into the coveted Homicide placement rather than Marc's less onerous choice of Image Processing.
He has his reasons, hoping to use Marc's familiarity with the underground to find his runaway daughter Marie (Jasmin Schwiers), missing for some two years. This has to take a back seat to the current investigations on the books, including a series of murders and disappearances that are eventually revealed to be linked in a grisly fashion. All were recipients of an intricate tattoo from the mysterious Japanese master Hiromitsu, and all have had that tattoo cut out from their flesh before their death. Ick.
With the twelve recipients of the tattoos dead or missing presumed dead, their only hope to catch the serial killer behind this gruesome collection lies with the ex-girlfriend of Hiromitsu and old friend of one of the murdered girls, Maya Kroner (Nadeshda Brennicke). She also has one of the exclusive tattoos on her body although no-one else bar the coppers and she know this. While it would seem to be this fact that's kept her safe, the coppers now decide to lure the killer out using Maya as bait. They set up a meeting to lure out the prime and only suspect known only by the pseudonym of Inzumi, using an internet chatroom. Truly the source of all evil. Perhaps Microsoft were right to shut down their chat servers.
It suffers from the same flaw that all films do when they introduce a mystery unknown character halfway through the movie. Thanks to the long standing Laws Of Conservation of Characters it's guaranteed to be one of the characters you've already met. With this in mind it's generally easy to discount a few of the characters, a couple are likely to be killed in some way and you're left with only one or two viable candidates. There's an innate problem in a whodunit when you already fairly sure whodunit for the last half-hour and are only waiting for confirmation. It removes much of the impact from the final? and that's a pity, as it was going swimmingly up until then.
While the last half hour does borrow a little too obviously from Se7en (the spelling of which still irritates me), before then it only steals thematic content that the 1995 film can hardly lay exclusive claim to. Set in a bleak, brooding, ugly landscape that can't possibly be truly representative of Germany's major cities but nonetheless fits with the ugly nature of the crimes well indeed. Incidentally, the tattoos them selves that are causing so much bother for all involved are in themselves beautiful, even if the people they are attached to aren't. Perhaps the few truly beautiful things in the movie, much credit must go to the designer, tattoo and bodypaint artist Alexander Boyko for his artistic skills.
The casts performances, as well as this non-native German speaker can gather are variously good and very good, hobbled only by falling into the whole fresh faced new guy / grizzled veteran stereotype seen here in its billionth outing. August Diehl fulfils the wide-eyed horror / gullibility aspects with the necessary simplicity while Christian Redl roars and grumbles his way throughout before being given the now-obligatory touching moments of character depth. Nadeshda Brennicke maintains a suitable air of detached mystery and the rest of the supporting cast do little with which fault can be picked. The action moves on a pace suitable to stave off boredom while allowing the truly creepy nature of the content to seep in.
In fact, there's very little wrong apart from the fact that you'll in all probability know whodunit before the detectives do, and that I suppose has to be viewed as a major flaw in a whodunit. For the remainder of the movie I found it deeply enjoyable. One of the few reasons I don't ignore said flaw and give this the four star treatment is that our very own Disko pretty much hated this film, largely on the basis that it steals too frequently and obviously from Se7en. It's difficult to defend it too much on this charge, it's just that it didn't really bother me in any particular way. Clearly this Disko fellow thinks differently, and so there's a chance that you may do too. Consider it's still respectable mark as a warning of said flaw, although I feel it reflects a little harshly on it.
Dark, brooding and for the most part enjoyable, if there's only one Se7en inspired German language taut Teutonic crime thriller you see this year make sure it's Tattoo
Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 3/5 TippyMarks.
Christian Redl (Minks)
Nadeshda Brennicke (Maya Kroner)
Ilknur Bahadir (Meltem)
Monika Bleibtreu (Roth)
Fatih Cevikkollu (Dix)
Johan Leysen (Frank Schoubya)
Ingo Naujoks (Stefan Kreiner)
Florian Panzner (Poscher)
Jasmin Schwiers (Marie Minks)