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The Counterfeiters (Blu-ray) Official AVSForum Review

post #1 of 16
Thread Starter 
The Review at a Glance: (max score: 5 )

Film: attachment.php?attachmentid=109946&d=1210373692

Extras: attachment.php?attachmentid=109946&d=1210373692

Audio/Video total rating:

( Max score: 100 )


Studio and Year: Sony Classic Pictures - 2007
MPAA Rating: R
Feature running time: 95 Minutes
Genre: Drama

Disc Format: BD-50
Encoding: MPEG-4 (AVC)
Video Aspect: 1.85:1
Resolution: 1080p/24

Audio Format(s): German/French Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish
Starring: Karl Markovics, August Diehl, Devid Striesow, Marie Baumer, Martin Brambach
Directed by: Stefan Ruzowitsky
Music by: Marius Ruhland
Written by: Stefan Ruzowitsky
Region Code: A

Blu-ray Disc release Date: August 5, 2008

"It takes a clever man to make money, it takes a genius to stay alive"

Film Synopsis:

Winner of the Academy Award® for Best Foreign Language Film, The Counterfeiters tells the true story of Salomon Sorowitsch (Karl Markovics), a swindler who made a name for himself as Berlin's "King of the Counterfeiters." However, his life of women and easy money is cut short when he's arrested and placed in a Nazi concentration camp. With the German army on the verge of bankruptcy, Sorowitsch makes a sobering deal with his captors: in exchange for a comfortable bed, good food and fair treatment, Sorowitsch, along with the other hand-picked specialists, must counterfeit bank notes to fund the Nazi War effort. If he does as they say, he lives another day. If he rebels, he faces the same fate as the rest of the camp's prisoners. But if he lives, will he be able to live with himself?

My Take:

Prior to reviewing home videos I was never much of an advocate of subtitled films. I have since come to have a different outlook on them and appreciate their value. I think that hearing the dialogue of a film in its native language which contains all the emotion and inflections as delivered is essential to getting the most out of it. The Counterfeiters is spoken in German and has English subtitles. This is a wonderfully acted film that tells a true story that I had never heard. I am always disgusted by the atrocities that were perpetrated by the Nazis and watching this film left me feeling the same. Salomon (Sally) Sorowitsch was a criminal and was deserving of incarceration for his misdeeds. He was thrown in with people who were guilty of nothing other than their religious beliefs. This film is about a man who leads a charmed life where he cares about only one thing, himself. When he loses that and is locked away he is forced to find a way to adapt and survive. Early on his knack for drawing earns him special consideration among his captors because he draws/paints portraits and murals for them. He pretty much sticks to taking care of himself until he is sent to another camp where his talents for counterfeiting resurface. Its here where he meets others that he develops relationships with and begins to figure out that people do matter and that life is about more than what he thought. This film is based on the book The Devil's Workshop by Adolf Burger who survived the experience. It won an Academy Award this year for Best Foreign Language Film and I can see why. I thoroughly enjoyed this film and have an appreciation for the sacrifices made by those who underwent the treacherous and costly situations in the Nazi concentration camps.

Parental Guide:

The rating is for strong violence, sexuality/nudity and language.

AUDIO/VIDEO - By The Numbers:
REFERENCE = 92-100 / EXCELLENT = 83-91 / GOOD = 74-82 / AVERAGE = 65-73 / BELOW AVERAGE = under 65

**My audio/video ratings are based upon a comparative made against other high definition media/blu-ray disc.**

(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)

Audio: 80

  • Dynamics: attachment.php?attachmentid=109946&d=1210373692

  • Low frequency extension: attachment.php?attachmentid=109943&d=1210373647

  • Surround Sound presentation: attachment.php?attachmentid=109945&d=1210373692

  • Clarity/Detail: attachment.php?attachmentid=109948&d=1210373699

  • Dialogue Reproduction: attachment.php?attachmentid=109948&d=1210373699

Video: 70

(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)

  • Resolution/Clarity: attachment.php?attachmentid=109943&d=1210373647

  • Black level/Shadow detail: attachment.php?attachmentid=109946&d=1210373692

  • Color reproduction: attachment.php?attachmentid=109946&d=1210373692

  • Fleshtones: attachment.php?attachmentid=109945&d=1210373692

  • Compression: attachment.php?attachmentid=109945&d=1210373692

The Counterfeiters comes to Blu-ray Disc from Sony featuring 1080p AVC encoded video that has an average bitrate of 31 mbps and lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 channel sound that has an average bitrate of 1.7 mbps.

The video presentation was disappointing and not what I would expect from a newer film. The biggest problem I saw was the excessive use of film grain. At times grain was so heavy that it made certain scenes (darker ones in most cases) look fuzzy and/or excessively noisy. As a result detail suffered and the video lacked definition, clarity and visual depth. The color palette was limited mainly to whites, grays, blacks, and sepia tones. These were reproduced quite well and looked natural but inherently lifeless in nature. Fleshtones didn't exhibit the kind of delineation that provides definitive differential characteristics but overall quality was good enough that complexions looked realistic. Shadow detail and black levels achieved a stable balance that enabled detail in dark areas and shadows to be seen. Contrast appeared to be spot so that bright sequences and whites didnt appear overdriven and washed out. At times there was simply too much of a grainy texture to be able to clearly differentiate between it and video noise. In either case fidelity was questionable.

The audio presentation fared better and had no trouble conveying the elements present within the soundtrack. Dialogue was clear and concise so that the varying tonal characteristics among the cast was easily discernible. Dynamically this is not a very demanding soundtrack however it had plenty of headroom and depth when it needed to deliver auditory with impact. There was no deep bass contained within the mix and any bass that was present felt anemic. Surround usage was what you might expect from a film like this and was reserved mainly for ambience and to present the films music score. In the end I had no real complaints with this soundtrack. It appropriately rendered the source material and never left me feeling as though it needed something more to achieve that.

Bonus Features:

The bonus features were good and devoted quite a bit of time to 90 year old Holocaust survivor/author Adolf Burger. It offered interviews of him and provided an excellent overview on his experiences in the concentration camp where he and others were forced to forge passports and counterfeit money. The 10 minute making of documentary looks at the production and provides background details on the original story, cast, and Adolf Burger. There is live Q&A with Director Stefan Ruzowitsky that is in English which is fairly informative, 4 deleted scenes and the original trailer which is the only feature offered in high definition. BD Live features are available and will be enabled by release date.

  • Director Commentary

  • 4 Deleted scenes

  • Making of - The Counterfeiters

  • Adolf Burger's Historical Artifacts

  • Q&A with Director Stefan Ruzowitzky

  • Interviews with real life counterfeiter Adolf Burger, Actor Karl Markovics & Director Stefan Ruzowitzky

  • (HD) Original Theatrical Trailer

  • BD Live

Final Thoughts:

The Counterfeiters is a poignant film that details the real life experiences of a select group of men who had no choice but to cooperate or face dire circumstances. One man discovered that the experiences changed his outlook on people and life. The quality of the high definition video on this Blu-ray disc is questionable which I found disappointing. This film is worth seeing so my recommendation is to rent it first. That will provide an opportunity to see the film and evaluate its technical merits prior to purchase.


Ralph Potts
AVS Forum Blu-ray Reviews

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post #2 of 16
Thanks for the review Ralph. Thought of pulling the trigger but now have to wait.
post #3 of 16
Can you check if the subtitles can be turned off? I ask because apparently a couple of other Sony "foreign" releases do not allow this (or if you choose off the subs still appear).
post #4 of 16
Hi Ralph,

Since you didn't mention it in your reviews I take it that the english subtitles are in the picture and not in the black bars?

Thanks Ralph!

post #5 of 16
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by Tom Monahan View Post

Hi Ralph,

Since you didn't mention it in your reviews I take it that the english subtitles are in the picture and not in the black bars?

Thanks Ralph!



Yes Tom, they are within the picture. I should have mentioned it and will make it a point in the future.

post #6 of 16
Thanks Ralph

I thought this was a scope film but now see that it is 1.85. Sorry for the dumb question.
post #7 of 16
It is one fantastic film and looks exactly like the director intended. If you don't like grainy films, you may not like the remastered Godfather which is filled with grain also.
post #8 of 16
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by JWhip View Post

It is one fantastic film and looks exactly like the director intended. If you don't like grainy films, you may not like the remastered Godfather which is filled with grain also.


Thanks. I have no problem with film grain but I found this to be a bit much. If this was the director's vision that's fine however I am not of the belief that because the film looks that way it is perfectly acceptable.

I liked the film as well.

post #9 of 16
I just watched this one last night. The story was good but a bit of a disappointment. I was expecting something that required a little more emotional investment, closer to Schindler's List. The PQ of course was grainy as everyone knows...seriously grainy. However, it works for this kind of movie. AQ was fine if unspectacular.
post #10 of 16
There is a warning about the grain on the back of the case. Apparently a decision was made to master this so as to be true to the original intent of the director and cinematographer rather than to "clean it up" for HD. This is a considerably "smaller" film than something like Shindler's List, concentrating on a smaller group and made on a much lower budget.

If one is interested in films about the Holocaust and wants a movie with less grain and somewhat more vivid color I'd recommend Black Book, also available on Blu Ray.
post #11 of 16
Great movie.....I just rented this on SD DVD, and while I am a fan of film grain in general, there is an awful lot of it in this movie, and I think the lack of resolution on DVD make the grain look more like noise and did detract from my viewing experience. That being said, it is a fantastic movie, worthy of the foreign-language Oscar, and should be watched based solely on the content, rather than the presentation, of the movie.

Also, if you get a minute, do check out the interview with Adolf Burger in the special features. I almost never watch special features but took the time to watch his interview....suffice to say it was great--lots of pictures and artifacts from his time in Sachsenhausen.
post #12 of 16
I finally got a chance to see The Counterfeiters BD today and loved it. What a powerful film it is! I even liked the grainy look of the movie, which Ralph and others did not. I liked it because I thought the grain, along with the contrasty look of the photography, contributed to the gritty look of the concentration camps in which most of the film was shot and the subject matter it presented.

I had never seen nor heard of any of the actors but they were uniformly excellent, particularly Karl Markovics who played the head counterfeiter and Davis Streisow whose character was the head of the Nazis' efforts to produce counterfeit Allied currency. This is a morality play for the ages with moral conundrums of a depth and complexity sufficient to flummox Job. Its Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film was richly deserved. Highly recommended!
post #13 of 16
Great review, Ralph. I thought this was a fantastic film and a fascinating story.
post #14 of 16
Guys, the reason this movie is so grainy, despite it being so recent, is that it was shot in Super16! Wasn't The Wrestler also shot the same way? Where are the complaints for that?
post #15 of 16
There were references to the "low budget" look of The Wrestler in various reviews and discussions.

The grain inherent in a given film stock can be managed with lighting, so the film stock used by different film makers can generate very different results.

As stylized movies make their way to Blu Ray, it will be interesting to see how they sell. There are limited numbers of those sold on the notion that the Director's intent is gospel.

Most people expect a commercial movie to look and sound somewhat better than they can make at home with their $200 camcorder.

I will rent these stylized flicks to check out the story and acting, but would not add one to my collection.
post #16 of 16
I was intrigued by the trailer but missed it in the theaters. Looks like a good one.
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