21 May 2006

Knockin' on Heaven's Door

A review of Thomas Jahn's Knockin' on Heaven's Door.

“If you only had a few days to live and had an unfulfilled wish, how far would you go to make it come true?”

That more or less summarizes the theme of Thomas Jahn’s 1997 German movie, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door. The movie, which was one of the biggest hits of the year, is an adventurous tragicomedy about two young, terminally-ill patients who decide to realize their wish before it is too late.

The two patients are Martin and Rudy, two radically different people: Martin’s the smooth-talker; Rudi’s the fumbler; Martin is reckless; and Rudi is timid and over-cautious. The only things they share in common are their hospital room, where they meet, and the fact that they only have a few days to live.

They don't get along well in the beginning, but make peace one day and secretly get drunk in the hospital. While talking, they realize that they’ve never been to the ocean even once, though they have longed to, for long. So they decide to go to the ocean before they die, and, sloshed, steal a Mercedes [which belongs to a strip-joint owner, and has 1 Million Marks in a suitcase, hidden in the boot.] from the hospital’s parking lot, and set off. Thus begins Martin and Rudi’s unforgettable, hilarious journey to the ocean, en route which they rob a bank, stay in the presidential suite of a top-class hotel, stage a kidnapping and blow up the 1 Million Marks, while getting chased by the police, the strip-joint owner’s goons and the media.

Martin and Rudi, during this journey, start living life a little more intensely, with a defiant disregard for consequence (they know they’re going to die anyway!). The situations that these two get into during this trip are genuine, funny and well-woven, and succeed in keeping the viewer’s attention fixed. Throughout the movie, one might get a slight feeling of déjà vu and may feel induced to mentally write it off as just another typical, already-seen adventure movie, but the very poignant last scene completely changes one’s opinion of the movie.

As far as the performances go, the only mention-worthy ones are by the actors who play Martin and Rudi. Til Schweiger, with his cocky smile and looks that would make girls swarm around him like flies, and Jan Josef Liefers, with his unruly hair, big eyes and broad, honest ‘Nice Guy’ smile, play Martin and Rudi respectively. They are the only actors with tremendous scope to perform, and they do very well. The other actors do not make that much of an impression.

Considering that this is his directorial debut, director Thomas Jahn, who is also responsible for the story and screenplay [written with Til Schweiger, who plays Martin], has done quite a good job. He seems to be influenced by Quentin Tarantino, but thankfully does not overindulge in it. The influences are subtle, and thus, unlike other Tarantino-inspired directors, every frame of his movie does not have ‘Tarantino’ stamped all over it.

The major letdown of this movie is the dialogues. The film festival where I saw this showed us an English-dubbed version, and not the original German language version. The poorly written English dialogues try very hard to sound Tarantino-ish, but sadly do not evoke much laughter.

On the whole, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door is quite a good movie. Like mentioned earlier, parts of the movie may seem clichéd, but it’s worth watching the movie for its bittersweet ending, which is sure to stay in your mind for a long time to come.


© Guru Smaran

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