If audiences spent the majority of Baran bo Odar’s “The Silence” holding their breath during the moody murder mystery, it may come as a bit of a surprise how much they’ll be trying to catch it in the German helmer’s latest “Who Am I”, a heist flick for the cyber crime age that proves diverting in more ways than one.
Having previously shown patience and a steady hand in building suspense in his feature debut, Odar is asked to do things differently for his second film, an energetic thriller about a group of hackers implicated in a murder and use their computing abilities to pull themselves out of the fire in real life. It isn’t only lead Tom Schilling’s resemblance to James McAvoy that reminds of Timur Bekmembetov’s “Wanted,” with Schilling’s Benjamin positing early like that film’s hero that he’s a nobody on the cusp of becoming somebody and “Who Am I” hurdling past this introduction at a breakneck pace.
Yet Benjamin finds his calling online, delighting in being able to sneak into banks and government accounts without a trace, which gives him a feeling of power he hardly has as a pizza delivery boy away from the computer. He finds some kindred spirits in Max (Elyas M’Barek), Stephan (Wotan Wilke Möhring) and Paul (Antoine Monot Jr.), a trio of hackers more socially outgoing than he is, and together, the quartet nicknames themselves CLAY (Clowns Laughing At You), pulling off mostly innocuous pranks on organizations until they attract the attention of MRX, a nearly deified presence in the hacking community alleged to have ties to the Russian cyber mafia. While the CLAY gang would seem to be flattered by the attention at first, the notoriety becomes far less appealing once it arouses the suspicion of Hanne Lindberg (Trine Dyrholm), a Europol investigator who mistakes them for another one of RMX’s associates that is strongly suspected of a hacker’s death.
As CLAY hatches a plot to clear their name, Odar himself appears to be making a strong case that he’s ready to graduate to Hollywood blockbusters after “Who Am I,” even indulging in some of their tropes such as a largely unnecessary romantic subplot with a woman Benjamin is forever trying to impress (Hannah Herzsprung) and an all-too-familiar framing device of an interrogation between that lasts the entirety of the film. However, there’s an undeniable pizazz to the proceedings, aided by the slick camerawork of cinematographer Nikolaus Summerer, a pulse-pounding score from Michael Kamm and kinetic editing from Robert Rzesacz that augment the already rousing action set-pieces Odar and co-writer Jantje Friese build the film around. Where many others have tried and failed before him, Odar manages the difficult feat of translating the rush of hacking into a visceral, visual experience, taking quite the risk in looking ridiculous by using a subway populated by anonymous hackers in masks to convey the digital flow of information and yet sees it largely pay off.
Although dressed up in contemporary cyberspace razzle dazzle, the makers of “Who Am I” ultimately reach the same conclusion of its hero Benjamin, who learns that the trick to hacking is no different than devising your average con with its success based on outwitting someone’s basic social engineering. Drawing upon the pleasures of knotty crime thrillers from the past, Odar cleverly uses the audience’s expectations from what’s come before to reach an entertaining outcome, not only turning the once-anonymous Benjamin into a real somebody, but continuing to make a name for himself as a talented filmmaker on the rise.
“Who Am I?” does not yet have U.S. distribution. It will be released in Germany on Sept. 25th.