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
    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
    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
    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
    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
    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
    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
    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
    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
    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
    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.
User Score

Universal acclaim- based on 215 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 66 out of 68
  2. Mixed: 0 out of 68
  3. Negative: 2 out of 68
  1. Jul 5, 2013
    It's a world you've probably heard about, but never actually realised existed. It's real people surviving in such a world. The acting is superb especially the main character (this is where Oscars should be going to).
    PS I don't speak a word of german, but that did not get in the way of my enjoying this film. One of the best films in a while? Probably. Definitely worth seeing.
    Full Review »
  2. Jun 2, 2013
    This review contains spoilers, click full review link to view. One of the best films I've ever seen. A brilliant story about an East German secret policeman who gets transformed by "The Lives of Others" he is supposed to be monitoring, and in the end he gives up his career in an attempt to spare them from their inevitable fate. I went into this film not knowing anything about it. What I found was a truly remarkable and touching story. Ulrich Muhe as Wiesler and Sebastian Koch as Dreyman stand out as part of the brilliant cast. A superb masterpiece! Full Review »
  3. Jan 23, 2013
    Similar to the communist witch hunts that alarmed American's in the 1950's, "The Lives Of Others" offers a riveting view of life behind the Berlin Wall. It's 1984 in East Berlin and Capt. Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Muhe) is a secret agent of the Stasi, who investigate people who are suspected of undermining government authority. But his newest subject has an unanticipated effect on the Captain. He sits in an attic day after day, night after night, spying on the people in the flat below.
    The flat is occupied by a playwright named Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) and his mistress, the actress Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck). Wiesle first saw Dreyman at the opening of one of his plays, where he was informed by a colleague that Dreyman was a successful man. Dreyman is good-looking, successful, with a beautiful lover; he must be getting away with something. Driven by suspicion, or perhaps by envy, Wiesler has Dreyman's flat wired and begins an official eavesdropping inquiry. Though von Donnersmarck accords Dreyman and Crista a fair amount of screen time, their roles are to act as catalysts. This is Wiesler's story and, although there are moments of tragedy, it's ultimately one of redemption. Wiesler is a fascinating character in that he is a blank slate if you will, trained by his life to reflect no emotion. Sometimes not even his eyes move. As played in Muehe's performance of infinite subtlety, he watches Dreyman as a cat awaits a mouse. And he begins to internalize their lives, because he has no life of his own; no lover, no hobbies, no distraction from his single-minded job. Wiesler has no one he can really talk to. His gradual transition from loyal soldier to actual human being is what's most compelling throughout. The seduction depicted in "The Lives of Others" is inadvertent. Wiesler is enticed by the possibility of art, meaning, and love, all of which are absent from his existence, but present in that of Dreyman and Crista. Wiesler lives in a bare apartment, with nothing to distinguish it from a hotel room and, when he desires company, he calls a prostitute. By listening to Dreyman and Crista, he discovers the potential of a more fulfilling existence. Eventually, his desire to be part of something meaningful leads him to act to protect the couple, even though his actions violate the law and place his career in jeopardy. Gripping and arresting drama from first time director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck is masterfully executed. Ulrich Muhe gives a phenomenal performance, a film that will stand the test of time. Oscar winner as Best Foreign Language Film.
    Full Review »