If the TV schedules fill you with doom, gloom, despair and despondency – never fear; we have a remedy for the torment that is ‘light entertainment’. Film drama from Denmark and Sweden, every bit as good as The Bridge or The Killing, populated with credible characters who have bitter-black back stories and who do terrible things, often for all the right reasons. Even the action-adventure spy stories conceal a heart of darkness…
SNABBA CASH / EASY MONEY 1: Set in Stockholm, this is a sharp and stylish thriller which explores what happens when greed leads a talented young economic student into the underworld of big-time drug smuggling. JW, the hero, is from a rural background and has limited resources. He’s smart and savvy and wants to play with the sleek people who come from money and who party big at weekends. But he’s barely paying his way through uni by working nights as a taxi driver… until he end up sheltering an escaped convict and becomes embroiled with a high-stakes drug scheme.
Enter the heavy mobs; there’s a conflict going on between Arabs backed by Albanians and the top-dog Serbians, one of whom is himself trying to retire from a life of beating people to a pulp and leaving them bleeding in the gutter, and who sees JW as a possible escape route.
It all gets cleverly convoluted, extremely tense and more than a little bit violent. What makes this an above-average gangland movie is the strength of the characters, their very credible back-stories and motivation, and the interplay between them. In two hours, Easy Money created an entirely credible scenario with people behaving badly but realistically. It also rips along at a fair pace, unlike some Nordic noir which can take forever to gestate and then leaves you hanging. Easy Money delivers…
If you liked the Pusher Trilogy, then you should enjoy this. It hits several of the same Euro-trash notes and dispenses just as much blunt force trauma. All the same, Easy Money demands a fair bit of input from the audience: it’s much more intelligent than the average Hollywood shoot ’em up and you’ll need to follow the characters’ storylines carefully to get the most from it. 8/10
BLEEDER: As compelling as a slo-mo car crash, this grittily realistic European drama showcases some stunning performances – not least from Kim Bodnia and Mads Mikkelsen. It’s a bleak, bitter view of grinding urban life, and of the conflicting pressures which rip relationships apart. Director Nicolas Winding Refn brilliantly captures the relentlessly miserable mundanity of low-rent urban existence. As with most of his movies there is sudden, unflinching violence – but it’s balanced by sequences of pure poignancy, and dialogue which veers from laugh-out-loud comedy to wince-inducing soul-skewering accuracy.
Bleeder is all about miscommunication and the slow erosion of hope. Yet it ends on an upward beat, of sorts. (Speaking of beats, the soundtrack is ripping, too). Not as commercial or easy to enjoy as Refn’s more recent films, but a must-see for world cinema / Euro noir enthusiasts. 8/10
HAMILTON: In the same way that Scandinavian TV revitalised the crime genre, this intelligent, action-packed espionage thriller shows how good a modern spy movie can be. Firmly anchored by an outstanding performance from the charismatic Mikael Persbrandt, the action zigzags back and forth from Sweden to Afghanistan, the Middle East and America. It gets to grips with the unsettling degree of autonomy that private ‘security specialist’ firms seem to have, and raises all kinds of questions about the practicality and morality of selling weapons, even to notionally ‘safe’ countries.
The fight sequences are superb. Rapid, executed with breath-taking verve; often bone-crunching and brutal. But they’re also well balanced with the film’s moral centre and Hamilton’s struggle to accept his own nature. He’s been trained to be a killer – and that has awful personal consequences.
There are a couple of flaws with the editing and it feels like some scenes were pulled, where loose ends just vanish. That may be to trim the running time, as this is a long film, heading towards two hours. It kept us utterly gripped throughout, however. Powerful, creative, thought-provoking film-making. 8/10
THE HUNTERS: Very different to Lassgård’s roles in Bergman and Wallander, this backwoods noir casts him as a weary police detective, transferring back to the rural heartland of Sweden after spending two decades in the country’s sophisticated capital. This scenario launches him into immediate conflict with a group of local poachers, who happen to include his own brother… The result is a powerful, occasionally disturbing film. Its violence feels inevitable and is certainly shockingly explicit. Lassgård’s character is revealed to be almost as flawed as that of his repulsive relative, both of them shaped by their abusive (now deceased) father.
Compared to some more modern Nordic noir, The Hunters’ plotting can feel a trifle clumsy and it looks a little dated. But the core performances are as compelling as ever, as is its social commentary on close-knit rural communities and the deep-set tensions between siblings. 7/10
LIVET DELUXE / EASY MONEY 3: The ‘Snabba Cash’ series concludes its trilogy of tangled storylines in this final part. If you’ve not seen the first two films then you may struggle to follow what’s going on here as the major characters will be unfamiliar. Even if you were paying attention last time around then you may still find yourself somewhat bewildered by the cascade of switch-back plot twists, disorienting flashbacks and sneaky sleight-of-hand stunts which make Life Deluxe both riveting and frustrating. Nothing in this movie is entirely as it is presented: never mind an unreliable narrator – here the plot itself is designed to deceive.
The result is an extremely engaging take on the ‘one last heist’ theme, with a ‘mafia kingpin wants to retire’ subplot blended with a ‘vigilante avenger’ twist. In short, just about every crime thriller cliché gets hurled into the mix in a multi-lingual Swedish / Serbian / Spanish mash-up. No wonder it’s a bit baffling at times.
However, Matias Varela delivers a gritty, gripping performance as Jorge, around whom most of the action revolves. Dejan Cukic as Serbian crime-boss Radovan is equally excellent, and entirely convincing when he snaps from ‘weary father figure’ to brutal bad guy in an eyeblink. The action sequences and fight scenes are typical of the genre; messy and credible and shown to have substantial impact on the survivors. Don’t expect to see much of Joel Kinnaman; his subplot is very much in the background. Instead, the main narrative follows an ‘inheritance’ thread, vividly demonstrating that family ties are frequently stronger than friendship…
There may be a couple of twists too many for the ending to be entirely satisfying (maybe a braver director would’ve finished on a more discordant note). The subtitles also struggle to convey all the deliberately ambiguous information in the dialogue, which means you have to work quite hard to keep up. overall, though, this rounds out the trilogy in some style. 7/10
THE HYPNOTIST: A thoroughly gripping Swedish crime drama, with stand-out performances from both Lena Olin and Mikael Persbrandt. Unusually, it’s almost as good as the original book, bringing to life three fascinating central characters, the emotional conflict between the disgraced doctor / hypnotist and his neurotic (with fair reason) wife, while introducing detective Joona Lind – a man with an excellent memory but naff-all family life.
The central mystery, which involves a spree killing and then a child abduction, isn’t too hard to unravel and some of the clues are almost telegraphed in mile-high writing. So although there are twists and turns, few will be massive surprises.
However, the filming, script, performances and direction all add up to a superb movie with substantial emotional impact. Never mind the obvious plots – there’s heaps going on in the background (false accusations, failure of prosecutions, marital infidelity, insecurity, strengthening of bonds through shared trauma…). It’s a clever commentary on the human condition, intelligently presented as Nordic noir. 9/10