Long before he began directing films Iceland’s Baltasar Kormákur enjoyed a successful career as an actor. finds Kormákur merging his tandem interests, directing a picture in which he also plays the leading role for the first time. He seals his reputation as a tour-de-force filmmaker by also serving as the producer and co-writer of the film.
Handling so many assignments can lead to compromises and shortfalls, but Kormákur seems to thrive on the stress. He’s dialed in here, creating a taut and energetic thriller that builds momentum surely and swiftly, echoing the way its hero, heart surgeon Finnur (Kormákur), races his bicycle across the mountainous snow-draped roads of Iceland.
places Finnur at a crossroads, exemplified in the Hippocratic oath, “Above all, I must not play God.” His father has just died, and his oldest daughter Anna (Hera Hilmer) is showing signs of falling apart. Finnur surmises she’s dallying a bit too much with drugs. His fears are aggravated when he meets her new boyfriend, a shady character named ”ttar (Gísli Örn Garðarsson), who sells stolen cars and doubles as a drug dealer. ”ttar isn’t at all discreet, taunting Finnur as a “geezer” and warning him not to interfere in Anna’s life.
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see where this is heading. Finnur might be a reserved intellectual, highly respected in his community, but the temptation to play God is too great for him to resist. In no time, he’s battling ”ttar tooth and nail, fighting hard — and dirty — in ways that not only might destroy ”ttar, but also forever sink Finnur. Once he has unleashed his inner Viking, how’s he ever going to regain his emotional clarity and control? How far will he go to hide his war, to divert the police and keep Anna unaware of his intrusion?
Kormákur’s new work could legitimately be described as Nordic noir, with its sharply turned plot twists set against stunning Icelandic backdrops. One can picture Chuck Norris or Bruce Willis playing Finnur, and one of them will probably do so if Hollywood ever buys the rights to remake this film. Kormákur is certainly more self-contained than his American counterparts, but not so distant or so bookish as to be unrecognizable.
The film has its flaws. We’re introduced to Finnur’s new wife, but she barely registers and is practically a cipher. Same goes for ”ttar’s mother, when she turns up distressed, not sure where her son has disappeared to. But Kormákur makes strong use of Ottar Guðnason’s widescreen photography. There’s also a riveting side dilemma, as the preoccupied Finnur botches a surgery on a young boy and has to indulge in some real bootstrapping on the operating table to save the kid’s life.
brings to mind the recent Romanian film by Cristian Mungiu. It, too, concerns a threatened relationship between a father and a daughter — in both cases, the father being a physician, and the daughter being led astray by a low-life boyfriend. is the deeper exercise and won Mungiu a best director award at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. But is hardly a throwaway. It comes recommended, especially if you’re a fan of strong action served with a shimmery chill. — Jon Bowman