The Counterfeiters

Movie review by
Cynthia Fuchs, Common Sense Media
The Counterfeiters Movie Poster Image
Bleak, mature film about WWII concentration camp.
  • R
  • 2008
  • 98 minutes

Parents say

age 3+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 1 review

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The hero is a criminal (a counterfeiter), who seems relatively moral compared to the Nazis, who are generally terrible: cheats, bullies, snobs, torturers, and killers.

Violence

Most of the film is set in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where violence is always threatened. Specific instances include beating, slapping, kicking, slamming heads against walls, whipping, throttling, shooting (bloody spatter, exploding head). Several scenes show a young prisoner suffering from tuberculosis (pale, deathly, coughing). A Nazi guard maliciously pees on a prisoner, who in turn smashes a sink in frustration. Almost all prisoners show effects of abuses, including bruises and bloody cuts.

Sex

Kissing leads to a passionate embrace on bed (nipples visible beneath woman's sheer bra); post-sex, she wears a slip and takes money he's left on the dresser (though she insists, "I'm not a..."). In another scene, kissing leads to sex (off-screen); post-sex scene shows woman naked on bed, her bottom and back visible; later, she drops a sheet to seduce her partner again, and you see her naked from the back, with breasts in outline, as well as a drawing of her naked. Some cleavage shots.

Language

Several uses of "f--k," plus other profanity, like "s--t," "hell," "arsehole," and "bastard" (all in subtitles). Repeated use of "Jew" as a derogatory term.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Frequent cigarette smoking, especially by the hero. Drinking in a gambling lounge and in a flashback bar scene. When a prisoner makes a secret deal with a guard to get TB medication, bottles are visible.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this subtitled drama, which is based on a true story, deals with mature themes and includes difficult images of cruelty and murder in a World War II concentration camp. Violence includes beating, fighting, and shooting, with visible blood, bruises, and other signs of brutality. Prisoners are starved, and guards are nasty. Two brief scenes show naked or almost naked women (from the backs). Language includes "f--k," "s--t," and derogatory uses of "Jew."

User Reviews

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Teen, 13 years old Written bymovierev9876 December 22, 2015

Not for small kids

This is not for small kids, had to cover my eyes sometimes because of nudity from men and women

What's the story?

Bleak, absorbing, and subtly convoluted, THE COUNTERFEITERS is based on the true story of master forger Salomon Sorowitsch (Karl Markovics), who was forced to oversee a counterfeiting program for the Germans in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. A flashback shows that his pre-capture attitude toward the Nazis was cavalier, that he was a selfish, ambitious, and very skilled criminal. But once he's imprisoned, he finds himself looking after fellow prisoners who are more vulnerable than he is (including one who's more idealistic and another who's deathly ill), as well as conniving to thwart the Nazis' plans, particularly their scheme to flood the British and American economies with fake money.

Is it any good?

Austrian director Stefan Ruzowitzky's movie tells a terrible but strangely enthralling story, focused on the moral evolution of Solly, the counterfeiter. His complexities -- his desires, fears, and inclination to cheat -- are shrewdly visible in Markovics' remarkable performance. In part, this complexity is achieved by his comparison with other prisoners: former activist (anti-Nazi) printer Adolf Burger (August Diehl) and sensitive Russian art student Kolya (Sebastian Urzendowsky). Equally mesmerizing is Solly's relationship with camp commandant Friedrich Herzog (David Striesow), who at times seems to think of himself as Solly's "friend" -- or at least a colleague in their illegal enterprise -- while also enforcing his power in vile displays of sadism.

The film is also beautifully shot and structured. Rather than taking a more conventional approach -- slow, long takes and somber stationary framing -- the difficult emotional and moral situations of The Counterfeiters are conveyed with a handheld camera and a variety of images: tight shots of shadowed faces, or distant observation of the lonely, bent-over forms of men in dire straits. Such careful, nuanced aesthetic choices reflect the perpetual shifting of Solly's mind as he strives first to protect himself from the Nazis, then to outwit them, and at last to face them ... and resist becoming a monster himself. Though he's surely broken by the experience, he also finds a resolve and capacity for ethical assessment.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the impossible choices faced by prisoners in concentration camps -- particularly as portrayed in the movies. What kinds of compromises are they forced to make to stay alive? How does this affect them? How does the strong material in the film make you feel? Do you believe the atrocities depicted here can happen again? Why or why not? Families can also discuss how the movie compares different kinds of criminality. How do Solly's crimes compare to the Nazis'? What makes some crimes worse than others?

Movie details

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