Metascore
89

Universal acclaim - based on 39 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 38 out of 39
  2. Negative: 0 out of 39
  1. 100
    A powerful but quiet film, constructed of hidden thoughts and secret desires.
  2. Lives is a best-foreign-film nominee competing in a year that at least three movies in this category are stronger than Oscar's best-picture contenders.
  3. Reviewed by: Ken Fox
    100
    A tense and tightly plotted fictional thriller is based on real tactics used by the Stasi -- East Germany's secret police force -- to spy on and interrogate their own citizens.
  4. Reviewed by: Claudia Puig
    100
    A thoroughly compelling political thriller, at once intellectually challenging and profoundly emotional.
  5. A great film, the best I've seen since Terrence Malick's "The New World," and far and away the richest and most brilliantly acted picture to be released this Oscar season.
  6. Reviewed by: Matthew Sorrento
    100
    von Donnersmarck creates a milieu so realistic that the attention-worthy setting becomes just a backdrop, while an intricate tale, as suspenseful as it is humanistic, takes over.
  7. Reviewed by: Alan Morrison
    100
    Already fêted, von Donnersmarck’s debut sets a closely focused, personal story against a more expansive backdrop of politics and power games -- a moving, enlightening tale of recent times.
  8. 100
    The unique, serious fun of this movie - and forbidding reputation aside, it is exhilarating - lies in the way that Wiesler, Dreyman and Sieland end up collaborating unknowingly on their own Design for Living (for a while, it's like Noel Coward for moral cowards).
  9. 100
    It's so full-blooded, smart, sexy, tense and absorbing, so cleverly written and shot and cut, so filled with superb acting and music, so perfect in its closing moment, that it surely ranks with the most impressive debuts in world cinema.
  10. 100
    The easy, complacent distance that informs much historical filmmaking is almost entirely absent from this supremely intelligent, unfailingly honest movie.
  11. Reviewed by: Dana Stevens
    100
    It's an intricate, ambiguous and deeply satisfying movie, a tautly plotted tale of state surveillance and personal betrayal that ultimately becomes an ode to the transformative power of art.
  12. Reviewed by: Richard Corliss
    100
    Smartly crafted, impeccably acted, The Lives of Others packs a subtle punch, from its creepy first images to its poignant finale.
  13. Rather than dwell on the darkness and squalor, von Donnersmarck has fashioned a genuinely thrilling tale, leavened with sly humor, that works ingenious variations on the theme of cat and mouse, speaks to current concerns about personal privacy and illuminates the timeless conflict between totalitarianism and art.
  14. 100
    To watch "Lives" is not just to enjoy a fabulously constructed timepiece; it's to appreciate a deft cautionary tale.
  15. 100
    If there is any justice, this year's Academy Award for best foreign-language film will go to The Lives of Others, a movie about a world in which there is no justice.
  16. Utterly riveting fictional drama.
  17. Ulrich Mühe gives a marvelously self-contained performance. There isn't an ounce of fat on his body, or in his acting: He has pared himself down to a pair of eyes that prowl the faces of his character's countrymen for signs of arrogance--i.e., of independent thinking.
  18. It convincingly demonstrates that when done right, moral and political quandaries can be the most intensely dramatic dilemmas of all.
  19. Reviewed by: David Ansen
    90
    It's hard to believe this is von Donnersmarck's first feature. His storytelling gifts have the novelistic richness of a seasoned master. The accelerating plot twists are more than just clever surprises; they reverberate with deep and painful ironies, creating both suspense and an emotional impact all the more powerful because it creeps up so quietly.
  20. Despite the fact that parts of this film remind us of past pictures with comparable themes, the director and his actors make it immediate, gripping.
  21. Reviewed by: Josh Rosenblatt
    89
    Like all great screen performances, Mühe's magic comes out most in its tiniest moments: a raised eyebrow here, a slight upturn of the lips there. It's a triumph of muted grandeur; it's like watching someone being born.
  22. 88
    Von Donnersmarck has crafted the best kind of movie: one you can't get out of your head.
  23. Works beautifully, both as a social and psychological drama and as a taut, tightly wired thriller.
  24. 88
    Beautifully textured and layered movie.
  25. Except for Hempf, every character is under incredible duress, and the performances are exceptional. With his first feature, an Oscar nominee for foreign-language film, von Donnersmarck has certainly left his mark.
  26. 88
    The skillfully acted and directed The Lives of Others is a timely warning about governments that seek to repress dissent.
  27. Reviewed by: Ty Burr
    88
    The Lives of Others has similarities to Francis Ford Coppola's 1974 classic "The Conversation" but with undercurrents that resound across an entire century of European political history.
  28. 88
    With solid performances and a terrific screenplay, this movie offers solid, no-frills drama that feels organic and believable, not contrived.
  29. Reviewed by: Glenn Kenny
    88
    von Donnersmarck delivers something extraordinary and rare: a thriller that's entirely adult in both its concerns and perspective which manages to be as thoroughly gripping as any finely tuned albeit adolescent Hollywood nail-biter.
  30. A movie that combines the Cold War intrigue of John Le Carré with the wired buzz of Francis Ford Coppola's "The Conversation" -- one of those rare two-hour-plus pictures that runs long but plays bracingly, excitingly short.
  31. The director is fortunate to have cast actors who fully embody their roles. Muehe, who once played Josef Mengele in Costa-Gavras's "Amen," has the ability to let you see far beneath his masklike countenance. Koch, dashing and intense, is entirely believable as a man of the theater; Gedeck exudes a sensuousness that this covert society cannot abide.
  32. Mühe's performance is brilliant, communicating more turmoil and pain with the droop of a lip and a flicker of the eye across an otherwise intently passive face than all the emotional storms of the cast.
  33. Reviewed by: Eric Hansen
    80
    Starts out dark and challenging then comes to a startlingly satisfying and warmly human conclusion that lingers long after the curtain has come down.
  34. 80
    This is a teasingly complex political thriller, but it's also a sort-of romance.
  35. Reviewed by: Derek Elley
    80
    Superbly cast drama… that looks to be a solid upscale attraction wherever the special chemistry of good writing and performances is appreciated.
  36. 75
    von Donnersmarck gives his debut feature, The Lives Of Others, no particular style, and the absence of visual risk-taking renders an exciting premise ponderous and stolid.
  37. 70
    A compelling thriller but an unsatisfying character drama.
  38. The fictional story here, set between 1984 and 1991, focuses on the investigation of a popular and patriotic playwright (Sebastian Koch); that the captain assigned to his case (touchingly played by Ulrich Mühe) is mainly sympathetic and working surreptitiously on the playwright's behalf only makes this more disturbing.
  39. 50
    The Lives of Others wants us to see that the Stasi -- at least some of them -- were, like their Gestapo brethren, “just following orders." You can call that naive optimism on Donnersmarck's part, or historical revisionism of the sort duly lambasted by the current film version of Alan Bennett's "The History Boys." I, for one, tremble at the thought of what this young director does for an encore.
User Score
9.0

Universal acclaim- based on 229 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 66 out of 68
  2. Mixed: 0 out of 68
  3. Negative: 2 out of 68
  1. Steve
    Feb 16, 2009
    10
    Given that I give a 10 once every few years this film must be a stand out and it is perhaps the most human film i have seen. Although harrowing, the setting is secondary but the story universal. The lead character could just as easily be an implement of the Church in Reformation times or a government operative in many a war as it slowly dawns on him that the national values for which he embodys are gone and filled with a perversion. To fulfil what he views as the true values of the country effectively mean treason but a decent man must make a stand. The subject of the surveillance comes to a similar juncture as he too realises that a true patriot doesn Full Review »
  2. DenizY
    Sep 14, 2008
    10
    One of the best and most powerful films I've seen in a long time. Takes a highly interesting time and transforms it into a mere backdrop for an amazing performance by the actors. The only shameful part of the movie is that the English translations are pure crap, and close to nothing what is actually being said. I'm not talking about literal translation, I mean you get a completely different idea of what is going on if you don't speak German and have to follow the subtitles. PS - The LA Weekly critic has it's head up you know where... The director / writer of this movie was not trying to say the people in the Stasi were just following orders. He was trying to show they are humans too. In the beginning, the main character who works for the Stasi was 100% loyal to the State, and later becomes more human from spying on these people, realizing he has no life. Typical Americans and their hubris, overshadowing the true meaning of things. And that's coming from a fellow American. Full Review »
  3. BruceC.
    Aug 5, 2007
    10
    One of the most powerful and affecting films ever to take the viewer inside the minds of the perpetrators of oppression. Brilliantly constructed, avoiding predictability and cliche the denouement is extraordinarily moving and insightful. Full Review »