He plays Daniel, a successful actor, living in Berlin, in a district that was formerly in the east. Daniel seems to have the perfect life. A beautiful wife (Aenna Schwarz), two lovely children, a classy loft apartment and plenty of money. Today he is flying to London for a meeting in connection with a role in an American superhero movie but on his way to the airport he stops off at his favourite bar for coffee. Bad mistake.
Because there he falls into conversation with Bruno (Peter Kurth), who, it turns out, lives in the same block as Daniel and has lived there in an unconverted and shabby part of the building since before the fall of the Berlin Wall. And Bruno seems to have it in for Daniel. He starts by denting Daniel’s confidence through brutally criticizing his work as an actor. But as a former victim of the East German secret police Bruno appears to have adopted some of their methods. He knows an awful lot about Daniel’s life. All of it to his detriment.
The film is basically a duologue – a duel between two fine actors. Their conversation is interrupted from time to time by the barmaid (Rike Eckermann), and the occasional fan who recognizes Daniel, while Aenne Schwarz gets her moment as Daniel’s wife towards the end of film. Brühl takes Daniel from cocky self confidence to sweaty disintegration in the course of the film. He didn’t write the script – novelist Daniel Kehlmann did – but he does appear to be quite ruthlessly satirizing himself and his own good fortune in the film. Kurth matches him in power as the implacable but not totally unsympathetic face of those former East Berliners who have failed to benefit from Western freedoms.
For its first two thirds the film is totally convincing. Then to close the trap Kehlmann and Bruhl take the plot one twist too far to be totally believable. Otherwise it is an almost perfect little gem of a movie.