The Tunnel - DVD Review

'in one heartbreaking scene, played out right next to The Berlin Wall, the divisions which it created are personified and writ large'

A two-hour forty-minute long, subtitled German film about an escape from East Germany to West Germany in the 1960s, The Tunnel might not, on face value at least, be your immediate choice for a relaxing and thrilling Friday night watch. You'd be well advised to give it a second look though. This is 'true story' thriller material of the highest order, dealing with Shawshank-like themes of the walls that keep us apart, of redemption, of hope and of courage.

The one-hundred and sixty minute runtime goes by with barely a pause for breath. Director Roland Suso Richter takes pains to delve into the full detail of the story but never spends too long on any one element, moving quickly from scene-to-scene and growing his characters to ensure we are fully invested by the time he reaches the final forty minutes, which are wisely reserved for the dramatic conclusion. Certain elements (the central romance for example) could have been eliminated and at times this feels like a director's cut but ultimately the film is all the better for it and Richter's decision to not compromise on character pays dividends.

Richter's grasp of his central themes and of the film's subject matter is also noteworthy. In one heartbreaking scene, played out right next to The Berlin Wall, the divisions which it created are personified and writ large: every character on display tortured by the forced sides they find themselves on and by the stasis and inherent injustice of cold war conflict. It is the film's emotional apex and it has the power to move on many levels, as do the next two or three scenes which present distinctly opposing emotions and display a brave strand of risk-taking in Richter's directing.

Sadly, this risk taking does not extend to The Tunnel's visuals which too often look dated and over-lit. Richter's main body of work consists of televisual films and whilst The Tunnel's plot and themes belong in the cinema, its appearance is pure small screen. The acting too is hit and miss. Heino Ferch as the protagonist is macho and believable, a worthy leader for a group of subverters, Alexandra Lara though, as his sister, is too aloof to love, rendering almost void a key concept of the story. Against type for the rest of the film Heinrich Schmieder's character is not given the room his individual machinations deserve but nevertheless puts in a sympathetic performance.

These gripes aside though, there's a lot to enjoy in The Tunnel. Its themes may be well trodden but its story is unique enough to justify exploring them all again and Richter's mastery of pacing ensures they're displayed in a way which never threatens to make the runtime seem like a slog.

The Tunnel is released on DVD in the UK on Monday 25th April.

Look further...

'what ultimately gives "The Tunnel" the feel of a real movie rather than a telepic is Johannes W. Betz's well-crafted script, which balances believable character development alongside narrative drive' - Variety


  1. Definitely worth checking out. Solid thriller with a great central story.

  2. I really enjoyed this movie, it is a well-made film! The tension gradually builds as the tunnel is being excavated; by the time it was finished and the get away effort is ready to start, I was already emotionally wrung out. I was surprised to hear that this was a made-for-TV show, as it blows away the majority of the theatrical releases I have watched in the past.

  3. I think it does a good job too of not wasting all that emotion which its built up. The escape scene could have bee a damp squib (especially considering the budget) but its not, it really rounds it off well. Glad you enjoyed it!