Most of you probably know by now (or have at least gathered) that straight dramas aren't really my cup of tea. I need to have some kind of other element in there, or at least make it somewhat stylish (City of God, for a recent example). I knew practically nothing of this film going into it except that it's about a guy who listens to people and it won an Oscar (and everybody and their mother hyped it up to me over the last year). And IMDb labels it as drama first, thriller second. About an hour into this 2+ hour movie, I'm asking myself where the thrill is.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. The Lives of Others takes place in Germany prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Wiesler (Ulrich Muhe) is a Stasi, or State Security officer. He's one of the best, and he's been tasked to keep surveillance on a writer named Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) and his actress girlfriend, Christa-Maria (Martina Gedeck). During this time, however, he begins to obsess over them and finds himself too emotionally attached... to the point he alters what really happens to avoid getting them in trouble with the law.
I will be honest--the first hour or so of the film I found rather dull. The opening with the interrogation was good, but after that, I found the pacing drastically pulled back. This was the "straight drama" part of the film. Eventually, though, it found a good footing in some minor suspense and caught my attention again. To be fair, though, I did appreciate and enjoy Wiesler's evolution as a character from heartless to compassionate. I also really liked some bits in the middle (where my attention started being grabbed again) where he truly begins getting captivated by what's going on and you realize he's one lonely man--he even goes so far as to hire a prostitute, and she leaves him still emotionally unsatisfied. It's a great moment. There's also a fantastic bit where he's listening to the couple, and he's essentially holding himself, taking the moment in and trying to live through them.
The acting is fantastic all across the board. Of course, I found Muhe's Wiesler to be the best, but everybody was totally on their game throughout. I know this is a vital element to a drama, as the dilemmas of the characters and how they react to them is the sole heart and purpose of the genre. So for a film to be able to take you to the point you're sympathizing with somebody who is essentially one of the bad guys means that they did something right (well... in most cases. I suppose there are movies where you hate the good guys so much that you root for the baddies, but that's not the case here).
Anyway, it's safe to say that I did enjoy roughly two-thirds of the film. There's about a 20-minute epilogue after the story really ends to help wrap up everything. At first it seems a bit unnecessary, but by the end it makes sense. It's a fascinating premise and a very well-made film. The acting is solid, as is everything else (down to the superb music score). I'm still not a huge fan of dramas, but despite it not being my favorite type of movie, I can agree that it deserves all the acknowledgement it received.