Coming into Christian Petzold’s rural neo-noir, it might be helpful to have an understanding of the films that he is aiming to re-create. Like his previous film, Yella, which played with the conventions of An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge in the context of modern Germany, Jerichow (presumably named after the town where the film is set) teases audience expectations with their own knowledge of the rich history of noir cinema. Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice even The Last Seduction are bound to guide and confound where the plot is (or should) be going. That Petzold lingers, drops red herrings and shifts audience loyalty between the three characters is one of the joys of the piece. While in the end it comes across a bit more like precise clock work than a living, breathing simulacrum is a bit frustrating however.
Thomas, recently discharged (dishonorably) from the German army is relieved of his discharge funds from his alienated friends, to whom he owes a large sum of money. Broke, with the financial means of renovating the decrepit family home completely evaporated (along with his friends), he is only barely getting by with unemployment office posted jobs. Things take a decided turn when he encounters Ali, a well off owner of a series of falafel huts, with a penchant for drinking and driving. After finding Ali and his Range Rover in the Elbe River, he lies to the police about who was driving. This leads to Thomas getting gainful employment as a driver for Ali as he collects from all his shops. Ali, a wealthy self made Turkish immigrant, doesn’t trust anyone, and Thomas physical presence comes in handy for keeping his shifty franchisees in line. Thomas quickly becomes close to both Ali and his gorgeous German wife, played exquisitely by the über talented Nina Hoss (one of the best (and beautiful) actresses currently working in German cinema). See where the film is going? Perhaps you do. Maybe not.
The trio of performances are pitch perfect insofar as they are both skin deep and subtly vague. Thomas (played by the flexible Benno Fürmann) is a blank slate, smart enough, and watching, he still has some elements of the classic patsy, his posture hints at cockiness although it may just be aloofness or stoicism. Hoss is cool, sexy, desperate and perhaps not as bright as she lets on. Ali (Himli Sözer) is a fireball of suspicion, arrogance, calculation and yet somehow, his immigrant/outsider status offers an interesting form of sympathy. The film as the tiniest morsel to say about how easily money (or lust) compromises trust an where exactly the line between temptation and entrapment lies. But mainly the film lets the actors bump and grind along, against the varied backgrounds of the town shops, verdant countryside and empty beaches. The pacing and construction create comforting notion (perhaps a smugness) of where the film is headed before yielding a twist that is not a twist. In the end, it is a fun and interesting ride, but less revolutionary or re-inventing than it is simply a flippant riff on the genre.