When Viktor (David Kross) finds himself exploited in a low-paying job as a builder, he teams up with Gerry (Frederick Lau) to defraud people via selling luxury apartments bought at auctions with money neither of them have, but which is later quickly raised through the sales. Initially, the two men’s scheme appears to be successful, with Viktor acquiring all the trappings of a wealthy lifestyle – a luxurious house of his own, an attractive wife in the form of fellow scammer Nicole (Janina Uhse), and generous amounts of cocaine and escorts. However, Viktor and Gerry’s actions come back to haunt them when their behaviour attracts the attention of the authorities..
The central problem with the film is that its premise, themes and iconography all seem highly derivative. The rags-to-riches journey of Viktor, the sex’n drugs-fuelled montages of him and Gerry living it up and his eventual downfall/possible redemption have been chronicled countless times in cinema, with Scorsese‘s The Wolf of Wall Street being a notable recent example.
As a result, writer-director Kaya appears to bring little new to the table in his chronicling of Viktor’s on-screen journey, instead appearing content with reheating old stylistic and narrative cliches (is it any surprise that the consequences of Viktor’s activities end up affecting his relationship with Nicole?) that viewers have seen before.
In addition, budget and narrative limitations further restrict Kaya’s attempts to emulate the likes of Scorsese, with the partying sequences in particular appearing somewhat limited in scope in comparison to the exploits of Leonardo DiCaprio and Al Pacino‘s Tony Montana, resulting in Viktor and Gerry’s supposed acquisition of wealth appearing unconvincing. The 94 minute running time also results in the second act feeling rushed, with Victor’s financial rise and moral descent feeling especially abbreviated.
This last aspect is a shame, as it leads to a wasting of the talents of Kross, who has proven with impressive performances such as his award-winning role in The Reader that he is capable of so much more than the script offers him. As it is, he is only able to manage to realise the cliched characterisation of Viktor that is provided for him, hitting all of the required character beats without being able to do more with them.
Lau manages to make more of an impression as Gerry, although this is largely due to the more outsized nature of the character which provides him with greater opportunities to steal his scenes away from his co-stars. A scene where he leads his fellow actors in a sing-along is one of the few moments that stands out among the largely generic nature of the rest of the material.
Rising High ends up simply retelling a rise-and-fall narrative that is archetypal to the point of cliche. Had Kaya taken more stylistic and narrative risks with his script, perhaps the film would have had an identity of its own, rather than that of countless other better films.
Available on Netflix now.