A slow burn, more of a smolder, then but a fizzle. With a little pop at the end. Like a breakfast cereal, perhaps. Or Chinese soup.
I’ve always lauded films that know that sometimes saying nothing is much more powerful than spelling everything out: Fargo and American Psycho serve as magnum opuses in their ability to optimize this narrative trick. But a whole movie based on the idea doesn’t work — at least in this case. Especially when you mix in blatant, amateurish continuity problems and a premise of unrecognized identity that could never happen, and you’ve got some problems on your hand.
A few positive attributes raise Phoenix, but not enough for a recommendation. My only explanation of its off-the-chart Tomatometer score is loyalty to political correctness. 4/10
SPOILER ALERT! He doesn’t recognize his own wife??!! Oh, her face has been completely reconstructed. WITH NO SCARS!!?? Her voice, her eyes, her exact same height — the handwriting! None of this gives it away? Give me a break!
The Tomatometer consensus:
Tense, complex, and drenched in atmosphere, Phoenix is a well-acted, smartly crafted war drama that finds writer-director Christian Petzold working at peak power.
Master at the top of his form my rear…. Barbara — not a very good movie — was better than Phoenix, so this isn’t Petzold’s top form — and I’m not sure he has one. The more I think about it, what a stupid movie — and there’s nothing complex about it. This is a very simple movie. I’ll stick to 4/10 because once I exercised all my might to knock down the incredulities, I kept fairly well with the story. But 4/10 is generous considering all the problems with this thing.