VOD film review: Next Door (2021)
Ivan Radford | On 04, Oct 2021
Director: Daniel Brühl
Cast: Daniel Brühl, Peter Kurth
Where to watch Next Door online in the UK: Curzon Home Cinema / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Virgin Movies / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store / CHILI
From Good Bye, Lenin! to Rush and A Most Wanted Man, Daniel Brühl has always been an actor who makes interesting choices. The prospect of him stepping behind the camera to make his directorial debut, then, is an intriguing one. Next Door (Nebenan) lives up to that intrigue, even if it doesn’t entirely build on it.
The film sees him play himself – or a version of himself, at least. We meet him as he’s heading from his home town of Berlin to London for a casting call. The hope is that he’ll bag the lead role in a superhero movie, not unlike Brühl’s own stint in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Captain Zemo. But he’s running early so he sends off his driver and cheerfully heads into a nearby pub, where he plans to kill time with a drink or two, while reading through his lines.
But his peace is interrupted by Bruno (Peter Kurth), a local who knows that Daniel, for all his charm, isn’t really a local himself. What ensues is essentially a two-hander, in which Bruno gradually reveals what he wants – and, perhaps more importantly, what he knows about the celebrity sitting a couple of tables away. The script, by Daniel Kehlmann, has a lot of fun with its self-aware premise, leaning into the exploration of fame and finding the line between a celebrity’s persona and the actual person behind it. That dichotomy is echoed in wider themes of gentrification and social divide, in the growing gulf between history and the modern day – both forces that shape the identity of a city as well as the people who live in it. (That Brühl’s breakout role in Good Bye, Lenin! saw him play a boy lying to his mother about the fall of the Berlin Wall – a role that is discussed by Bruno here – only makes his casting even more fitting.)
What begins as slippery, spiky satire, though, has little choice but to turn down some more melodramatic avenues, and the script loses its weight the closer it gets to its final act. Fortunately, the cast has already got you hooked long before then, with Kurth’s curt demeanour becoming increasingly intimidating and Brühl proving delightfully game as the self-involved performer who thinks he can smile and talk his way out of any situation. His direction, too, is quietly taut and knows exactly when to give his double act space and when to pull in close. It could be a smug or vain project and it’s testament to Brühl’s ambitions and skills both in front and behind the camera that it never feels like either – but that’s also why the end result is slightly disappointing. Nonetheless, it leaves you equally intrigued to see what Brühl might direct next.