Rising High – review (Netflix)

Brief synopsis: A young man, after working on a building site and struggling to make ends meet, decides to rent out apartments to some of his fellow workers. A chance meeting with another man and a spark of inspiration takes his life in the direction of real estate. Their rapid and rise and descent are documented after he is arrested and agrees to tell his story to a journalist.

Is it any good?: Rising High or Betonrausch (original German title) is Wolf of Wall Street lite. It is beautifully shot and well-acted but it is not particularly engaging and the story is nothing that has not been seen before. Rising High is passable but not a must-watch.

Spoiler territory: A raucous party is happening at a mansion. Booze is flowing and drugs are plentiful. The thirty-something crowd dance and frolic with seeming reckless abandon through the night. The next morning, as partied-out bodies lay strewn around the property, Viktor (David Kross) is watching a television advert of himself, standing next to his business partner, Gerry (Frederick Lau), selling their real estate services.

As he watches, he remembers a conversation he had with his father who told him, whatever he does he should do it well. Outside the property, a large police squad swarm on the mansion. They arrest Viktor and he is sent to prison. He agrees to be interviewed by a journalist (Anne Schäfer). She asks him if he would do his crimes, corruption, fraud, and tax evasion, again. He says he would.

Viktor remembers his father being embarrassed by a family friend, Manfred (Uwe Preuss), at his mother’s birthday party. He recalls his father’s look of shame as Manfred gifted his mother, Viktoria ( Silvina Buchbauer), a pearl necklace, something her husband could not afford.

Fast forward and Viktor is leaving home. His parents have split up, so only his father sees him off on his journey to the city. In Berlin, Viktor tries to get a place to live. Unfortunately, he finds he cannot get a rental agreement unless he can show proof of employment and earnings.

He goes and finds so work on a building site. At the end of the day, the foreman gives him a paltry wage, telling him he has to pay taxes. He remembers how his father struggled with taxation, being told by one of his teachers at school, that if he did not pay his tax Viktor would have to leave.

The next day, Viktor creates a fake CV and employment contract for himself, changing his name and earnings. He uses the document to rent a large apartment. He returns to the building site and tells the mostly Bulgarian workforce, who had been paying the foreman from their wage to sleep on the site, that they can stay in the apartment he has found at a much-reduced rate.

He repeats the trick, moving to a nicer apartment. Later in the day, in the evening, Viktor receives a phone call. There is loud music coming from his apartment. Viktor says he does not play music, doesn’t even like music. He rushes over to the apartment and finds it loud and raucous, Bulgarian builders partying and fighting, wrecking the apartment.

Viktor stops the music, trying to break up the party. Gerry is one of the men at the party. He looks at Viktor, meeting him for the first time, noting that he is not blonde. He had been told he was blond. Before they can debate Viktor’s hair colour further the police burst in. The real estate agent, who rented the property to Viktor, points him out. Gerry gets the builders to distract the police and helps Viktor to escape.

The two become friends over a few drinks. Gerry takes him to his favourite party haunt, a brothel. The men party all night. The next day, Gerry takes Viktor home with him. Viktor meets his wife, Katja. Gerry asks her if Viktor can stay for a few days. She says sure. At breakfast, Gerry tells Viktor that he thinks he has a face that can sell anything. People look at him and believe what he says. Katja agrees; Viktor is a good-looking guy.

The two men decide they are going to buy a cheap property and flip it. At an auction, they find that they are constantly outbid by other buyers. The next time they go to auction, Viktor makes a deal with the security guard so that the two men end up being the only people in the correct auction room. They bid for two properties and, being unopposed, win the bids. Gerry is ready to leave. Another, larger property comes up for auction. Viktor buys it.

Gerry thinks he is crazy. How are they supposed to afford the property? Viktor tells him they have ten days to raise the capital. All they need to do is get the necessary loans for prospective buyers. Gerry knows someone they can talk to. They go and meet Nicole (Janina Uhse), who works in banking. She is initially reluctant, knowing Gerry from their youth. Viktor persuades her that they can get the money she requires to put business their way.

Viktor tells the journalist that once the money started coming it was easy. They went to see another acquaintance of Gerry’s, Tarun, an insurance salesman but he refuses to help, wanting big money if he helps them. They break into his offices, hoping to find his client list. Unfortunately, the information is on his computer and is password protected.

They go and see Nicole. She rings up his insurance company and pretends to be his spouse, telling them he has been in an accident and that she needs to get into his files. They get the password. They go and see the property. It is a wreck. They decide to do up one apartment. They sell all of the other apartments on the strength of that one apartment.

Viktor tells the journalist that all people are greedy, hence selling the dream apartments was easy. The journalist reminds him of a particular client who was buying the apartment for his granddaughter. Viktor admits to having felt guilty about that sale. That guilt was forgotten once the money landed in their account. Their business dealings helping Nicole to get a promotion.

Viktor and Nicole start seeing one another. They end up buying a mansion. Gerry tells them they need to get a marble lion’s head out front and they do. They keep on making bigger deals. Viktor buys an extremely expensive necklace for his mother even though he does not speak to her.

He takes Nicole to meet his father. During dinner, he leaves to go and see his mother. His mother is living with Manfred. He storms into the house and accuses Manfred of pretending the necklace is from him. He tells his mother that the necklace is a present from her ex-husband. She says she does not care. Viktor takes the necklace back. He drives back to the restaurant, whilst recalling catching a half-dressed Manfred in is home as a boy.

Later, at the brothel, Gerry tells Viktor that he should not marry Nicole. They get married. Gerry is even prepared to help him escape at the wedding. Nicole is wearing the necklace. Gerry tells him he needs to hide the necklace.

They have a child, a baby girl. Viktor buys his father a sports car. Life is good. The men continue to live the high life. They employ a new accountant after she warns them that their finances are too transparent. The tax office comes after them. Viktor asks Nicole for the necklace. She tells him it is upstairs but he cannot find it.

He tells her that the tax office wants millions. She asks him if he never put any money aside. He tells her the necklace was his back up. Gerry cannot help as he lets Katja take care of the family finances. Viktor is determined to beat the tax office, going for an even bigger presence in real estate. They make enough money to pay the tax office but Viktor refuses to pay them, investing in a new project.

The project grinds to a halt when the tax office freezes their credit cards and their workers refuse to work on the construction. Gerry comes to the rescue. Viktor returns home but gets kicked out when Nicole finds his cocaine stashed under the baby’s cot. He goes to the brothel and consoles himself with one of the ladies, Chantal.

Nicole wakes up Viktor the next day. He has Chantal’s number written on a euro note. Nicole rings her and she, thinking Nicole is Viktor’s sister, tells her that Viktor complained about his wife all night. Nicole leaves him and stops him getting credit form any banks.

Viktor pushes on and decides to create a bank to loan themselves money. They party, thinking they are back on top. Gerry leaves the party, returning to his wife before the raid. Viktor gets arrested. Nicole turned him in to get a reduced sentence and to bring him down. In prison, Viktor waits for his father to visit. His mother turns up instead.

His father lost control of the car and died in a crash. He had called his mother to tell her Viktor was in prison from the car. The interview ends. Viktor tells the journalist why he wanted the interview. He wants her to deliver a DVD recording to his daughter. His daughter sees the recording.

Viktor gets released from prison. Nicole meets him and brings his daughter to meet him. He gets a small apartment. He receives a note from Gerry telling him he knows he can get back to being the lion he was before. Viktor realises it is a cryptic clue and goes back to the bust of a lion he had outside of his old home. He breaks it open and finds the necklace.

Now with collateral once more, Viktor returns to the auction house. The end.

Rising High is just okay. It suffers from being far too similar, despite what some might say, to Wolf of Wall Street. Viktor is a dreamer and a salesman by any means necessary. He falls into the life of easy money and dodgy dealings in an effort not to be poor, something that he feels contributed to his parents’ divorce.

Written and directed by Cüneyt Kaya, Rising High is a good looking film and well-directed even as it flits from interview to the story being told. The acting is good from all on show. Unfortunately, IMDB does not list the names of all the actors in the film. The central three are listed but the actor who plays his father is not. Strange.

That aside, the acting from all is really good and you believe all of the performances. The party scenes are brilliantly shot and look like the sort of parties you only hear about or read about. The same as the brothel, which given it seemed to be filmed in the tiniest of spaces, was quite impressive.

Kaya is a good visual director. The story is just so so. It is not bad or even poorly told but it does not, in the way of the aforementioned Wolf of Wall Street, have you rooting for the protagonist. The most niggly thing about the film is the weakness of the story. The casting is good, every person looking the part they are playing and the music and sound are good.

It is just the pedestrian story that lets it down. Rising High at ninety-four minutes long, is not a long film but unless you are a huge fan of German cinema, it is not a must-see.

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