The Counterfeiters (R) (98 min.) — Director Stefan Ruzowitzky fashions a different sort of Holocaust movie, in which Jewish concentration camp prisoners are victims with guile, and perhaps the upper hand on their Nazi captors. Based on a true story, The Counterfeiters is constantly entertaining, while not ignoring the horror or emotional uplift of previous films on the topic.
Salomon "Sali" Sorowitsch (Karl Markovics) is known as the world's greatest forger, making his capture a feather in the cap of policeman Friedrich Herzog (Devid Streisow). Five years later, Herzog is the commandant of a camp where Sali and other experienced forgers are gathered.
The Nazis plan to flood and ruin Allied economies with bogus money. The prisoners will make it work or die refusing. There are perks for cooperating, and Sali is a pampered opportunist who agrees without hesitation. Other prisoners such as Adolf Burger (August Diehl) despise dealing with the enemy.
Under Sali's direction, the phony British pounds and U.S. dollars start rolling off the presses. Not fast enough, however, for Herzog, who develops into one of the more humane Nazis ever onscreen, an avuncular family man following orders, although not to the extent that more brutal Nazis would.
Sali realizes the importance of the scheme, using it to his advantage, or so he thinks. By the conclusion, we are familiar with an overlooked angle of the Holocaust, the sharp divisions among prisoners and the survival instincts keeping them together. Sali can be likened to Oskar Schindler: a greedy man confronting the consequences of his actions and doing something, anything, different.
Ruzowitzky scores his film with tango rhythms, underlining the dance of motives and personalities that Sali and Herzog perform. Markovics is an arresting presence, his severe features and beady eyes preventing him from appearing like a hero. The film opens and closes with Sali beating casino tables and bedding beautiful women. He doesn't look that part, either, but Markovics' confidence makes it real.
The Counterfeiters recently won the Academy Award for best foreign language film, and certainly deserved it. A
Steve Persall, Times film critic