Imitation is supposedly the sincerest form of flattery and with Robert Schwentke’s directorial debut the similarities to David Fincher’s “Se7en” are glaring. When any such movie garners such critical acclaim there will inevitably follow a series of copycats, attempting to evoke the same style and feel yet after such a masterful production from the American director, the German offering falls flat.

Marc Schrader (August Diehl) is a newly graduated police recruit, enlisted by veteran crime detective Minks (Christian Redl) to solve a mounting list of murders involving the flaying of skin, or more specifically tattoos. As the investigation unfolds, both find an elaborate plot involving “skin traders” involving often unwilling donors.

Schwentke attempts to cajole and disturb the viewer with continually disheartening and gratuitous visuals. Although these initially add to the intensity of the plot, the overriding focus on the same lead to an inevitable lull in the plot meaning the story evolves in such a way as to leave us with as few surprises as possible. It’s commendable for a director to go so far but without the backing of a nuanced story, often the frank visuals are too jarring or simply do not fit contextually into the overall narrative arc. In the age of “Saw” and “Hostel”, now more than ever such choices are not enough to sustain an audience’s attention for long.

With cinematography for all intensive purposes taken directly from Fincher’s playbook, the writer/director abandons realism. Pushing it further into bleak modernism, the feel of the piece cannot surpass stifling self-consciousness for long. Drained of almost any vibrancy, the colour palette is never warm or engaging, matched only by the over-use of panoramic or widescreen shots. Even those that attempt to illustrate and capture the emotion felt by the characters at key moments are too despondent, too detached to maintain our sympathies for very long. The result is often closer to a selective viewing of the original “Blade” than a modern crime drama.

Redl and Diehl act admirably within the confines of their character but never break free from the conventions forced up them. Not once do they appear distinct or relatable, even in their differences from us to demand our attention.

Innocuous in every sense of the word, “Tattoo” is an average re-imagining of a far superior movie, never carving out a niche for itself sufficient enough to bring it beyond what is merely adequate.

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