The runner as metaphor — moving fast through the world, eyes on the finish line, or head turned back, trying to escape the past. In the British New Wave classic The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, it was about rebelling against authority. In Chariots of Fire, it was about speed - and class, and religion, and culture clash.

It's not easy to say why the title character in the dark, taut Austrian thriller The Robber runs. Johann Rettenberger (Andreas Lust) has just served six years for armed robbery. In prison he kept to himself, running circles in the yard, training relentlessly. Now out in the world again, he competes in marathons - and finishes at the head of the pack. He keeps a log of his times, monitors his heart rate. And then he puts on a mask, takes a pump-action gun, and robs banks. Sometimes, he escapes by (stolen) car. Other times, he just darts down the sidewalks, a man possessed.

Directed by the German filmmaker Benjamin Heisenberg and adapted from a book based on the real-life exploits of just such a man, The Robber is powerful stuff. There are riveting chase sequences - on crowded city streets, in vast forests and countryside. And there's the enigma of what drives Rettenberger. Is it simply about the money, or is there something deeper going on? To rob a bank, to run - are these the only things that make him feel alive?

There is a parole officer eager to see Rettenberger succeed - at running, and at assimilating back into society. There is a girlfriend (Franziska Weisz), attracted to Rettenberger's quietude, his mystery. But he cannot settle down, find a job, go straight. He doesn't even try.

The Robber is exhilarating and, ultimately, filled with a sense of existential dread. The outcast, the criminal, determined to outrun his pursuers. And determined to never feel trapped again.EndText