Just when you thought no one could come up with a fresh take on the Western, the Danes arrive with this astonishingly earthy and inventive film, shot in South Africa no less. Director Kristian Levring uses all of the usual elements without ever resorting to cliches, which makes the film strikingly involving. Not only are the characters people we can identify with, but their moral dilemmas are strikingly provocative. Especially as the violence escalates.
The story opens in 1871, as Danish immigrant Jon (Mads Mikkelsen) welcomes his wife (Nanna Oland Fabricius) and young son to the American prairie where he has worked for seven years. But on the way home from the station, they are ambushed by outlaws. After a desperate struggle, Jon manages to kill them, but this puts him on the wrong side of the local boss Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who enforces cooperation from the town's mayor-undertaker (Jonathan Pryce) and sheriff-priest (Douglas Hensall). So aside from his brother Peter (Mikael Persbrandt), Jon has nowhere to turn. His only hope of justice is to deliver it himself.
Adding an intriguing layer is the fact that Jon and Peter are veterans of Denmark's civil war, just as the locals are survivors of America's. So everyone has war in their blood. The Danish brothers have vowed to turn their backs on violence and build a lawful society, so the flurry of clashes, kidnappings and killings with Delarue's goons (including Eric Cantona) are tinged with regretfulness. And the script never lets the audience off lightly: in the Wild West, no one is safe. Civilisation has only begun to arrive in this isolated place, but the discovery of oil has replaced old world values with pure, unfiltered greed. Yes, there's a lot more going on here than the usual swaggering Western machismo. And the casting has as much to do with that as the script.
Continue reading: The Salvation Review
From Denmark, this morally complex drama is urgent and provocative even if the story is full of lapses that make it feel oddly implausible. It's a reteaming of director Susanne Bier and screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen, whose breakout 2004 film Brothers (remade in 2009 with Jake Gyllenhaal and Tobey Maguire) had similar problems: a high-concept premise that makes the dilemma more important than plot coherence.
Game of Thrones star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau returns home to Denmark to star in the film. He plays Andreas, a detective who is horrified when he and his partner Simon (Ulrich Thomsen) find badly neglected infant Sofus in the home of lowlife ex-con Tristan (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) and his junkie girlfriend Sanne (Lykke May Anderson). But there's no legal way to remove the baby from his parents. This hits Andreas especially hard since his son Alexander is the same age and his wife Anna (Maria Bonnevie) is struggling emotionally with motherhood. Then Alexander dies unexpectedly and Andreas hatches a plan: he swaps the dead Alexander for the abused Sofus. Obviously both of the mothers notice this immediately, but Anna accepts it and no one will listen to Sanne's outcry. And Tristan is preoccupied with trying to cover up what he thinks is his son's death.
Bier and Jensen work diligently to set up this premise, with details that try to address each aspect of the story, but it simply never holds water. For example, we never believe that Andreas' action is something any caring husband would do, especially one who works for the police. Or that Anna and Simon would go along with it. So as the story becomes increasingly entangled, everything begins to feel like it's heading for the only conclusion possible. Thankfully, Bier and Jensen are skilled enough to make all of this compelling, challenging the audience to confront each decision the characters make and consider the moral repercussions of everything they do.
Continue reading: A Second Chance Review
It's rare to find a romance that's actually based on such vivid characters as these, but then this is from Oscar-winning filmmaker Susanne Bier (In a Better World), who knows how to root films in people rather than plot structure. And even more important: this is a romance about middle-aged people we can genuinely engage with, as they have been beaten down by life and are in need of a fresh start.
It starts in Copenhagen, where hairdresser Ida (Dyrholm) has just finished cancer treatment when she discovers that her husband Leif (Bodnia) is sleeping with a young airhead (Schaumburg-Miller). Now she has to pack her son (Hansen) off to war before heading to Italy for the marriage of daughter Astrid (Egelind) to her boyfriend Patrick (Jessen). Then at the airport, Ida has an unlucky run-in with Patrick's tetchy father Philip (Brosnan), who has focussed only on his work since his wife died. And even as Ida catches his eye, he has to fend off the advances of his lovelorn sister-in-law Benedikte (Steen).
With a group of people gathering for a wedding on an idyllic Mediterranean island, the plot may seem like Mamma Mia without the music. But there are surprising details in the characters as the farce develops, and only a couple of the plot-lines get silly. The central love story is actually remarkably sweet, using Ida's and Philip's troubled histories to make their interaction both snappier and more deeply emotional than we expect. And Bier, working with her usual screenwriter Jensen, are free to let other narrative strands come and go around them.
Continue reading: Love Is All You Need Review
Flickering Lights boasts an impressive cast from a broad range of Danish films and television (Mifune, The Celebration, Pusher, The Kingdom), which is put to good use by Jensen's witty script and slow but deliberate direction. Torkild (Søren Pilmark) is the head of a small time gang, pulling small jobs for a gangster known only as the Eskimo. After his 40th birthday and a botched heist involving 4 million krones, Torkild and his gang are forced to hide out in an abandoned inn in the middle of nowhere. The gang has to wait only until Peter (Ulrich Thomsen), who was shot, is well enough to travel, so they can continue on to Barcelona. But after meeting some of the locals and finding moments of peace in this secluded hideaway, Torkild conveniences the rest of the gang that staying put may be the future for which they are all looking. The gang uses the money to buy the inn and renovate it, making it into quaint family restaurant that people drive for miles to visit, not because of the food (the boys apparently never learn to cook), but for the atmosphere.
Continue reading: Flickering Lights Review
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