The Counterfeiters
directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky
(Sony, 2007)

The Counterfeiters is the true story of the largest counterfeit operation in history, Operation Bernhard, in Nazi Germany during World War II. The Nazis recruited about 20 expert engravers, printers, photographers, etc. -- almost all Jews -- and stashed them in a secret compound at Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where they had private quarters, were fed well and even had a ping pong table.

The goal was to print millions in British pounds and U.S. dollars and flood the economies of the Allied countries.

The Nazis put the "king of the counterfeiters," Salomon Sorowitsch, played here by the very dour Karl Markovics, in charge. The movie is told from his point of view.

At first the men are astounded at their "good luck" at being spared the gas chambers. Yet as they work and become successful forgers (especially with the pound), they face a moral dilemma -- they are helping the Nazis in the war effort. One of the forgers, the only one who knows the rotogravure processs to make passable dollars, begins sabotaging the operation. The others are ready to throttle him because he's putting their lives at risk.

The top Nazi SS scumdog is Herzog, played by David Striesow to slimy perfection. He comes on all charming and palsy-walsy, but the Jews know he is not their friend. And he knows they know.

Tension builds as the end of the war approaches. When the SS abruptly shuts down the operation, fear grips them.

A very effective scene is when the "real" concentration camp inmates, now armed, take over the camp in the Nazis' absence and confront the forgery team, who they assume are SS. The resolution is a highly dramatic moment.

The Counterfeiters (originally released as Die Falscher) is an effective thriller that climaxes too soon. A "bookending" device, somewhat like that in Saving Private Ryan except set at the routlette tables of Monte Carlo, seemed pointless.

review by
Dave Sturm

7 November 2009

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