M

Poster
1931
Fritz Lang

9/10 (more socio-political commentary than narrative film (a little cold))

It’s not often that a movie makes you completely reevaluate your stance on a significant moral issue. “Dogville” and “Gone Baby Gone” both do this, and in its better moments so does a film like “Munich.” Fritz Lang’s “M,” however, predates all of them by a good 70 years or so.

“M” presents the somewhat simple tale of a serial child molester and murderer in Berlin. After showing one of his huntings early on, Lang focuses more on the hysteria that builds in the city and the efforts of different parties to find and capture the monster.

As a result of these efforts, the criminal underworld experiences a heightened police presence that begins to infringe on their various business dealings. In one of the richer ironies/satires of the movie, Crime bosses get together to discuss the problem and decide that in order to improve business they actually need to find the killer themselves, since the police appear unable to solve the case. What follows is an entertaining cat-and-mouse game with excellent acting from the lead Peter Lorre (as killer Hans Beckert).

But all of this is really just a buildup for the incredible finale. Once caught, all of the criminal elements and ne’er-do-wells of the city create a huge tribunal that takes place in a warehouse basement, where they attempt to try Beckert in a “people’s court.” Why they do this and what results is something I won’t give away here, but believe me when I say it’s compelling.

See this film if you want to think about criminal justice in a completely different light. Or just if you’re interested in classic cinema, in which case “M” more than holds its own as well.

6 January 2011

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