This is one of those movies I’m supposed to like a lot more than I do. (Four months after my original review appeared, someone was moved to comment that it was inconceivable that I could give this film only four stars and give The Darjeeling Limited five.) But the fact is that I’m pretty indifferent to this as filmmaking, despite the quality of its screenplay and acting. That isn’t to say it’s a bad movie—just one that, for me, misses greatness. Many people feel differently, so bear that in mind.
As a story, The Lives of Others—set in Soviet-era East Germany—is strong. The very idea of a committed “party man” being drawn into the humanist world of a possibly subversive writer he’s spying on is an interesting one. The fact that the spying is a put-up job by the man’s superior might start to undermine the spy’s faith in the system, but it’s really his awakening to the “lives of others” and their art that’s ultimately central to the film. And on this level, the film definitely scores.