Review by Alana Odegard, photos courtesy of Sena/Saga Film.
It is a typical summer’s day in a quiet residential neighborhood. A small child plays outside, a man jogs past lush green trees, and a young mother walks with her baby held in her arms; all unaware that just above them, a man is plummeting to his death from the top story of an apartment building.
As he is in free-fall, children continue to swing lazily back and forth on the playground and ride their bikes. An elderly woman slowly makes her way across the courtyard but her path is suddenly blocked by the body of the man as he crashes full-force onto the cement in front of her.
Blood stains the sidewalk and screams fill the air. Blink and you will miss the mysterious figure looking down on the chaotic scene from high above on a balcony; perhaps from the spot where the man’s fatal fall began.
This thrilling opening scene of director Óskar Jónsson’s television crime series Black Angels (Svartir Englar), aired in Iceland in 2008, immediately grabs your attention as you prepare to hold onto the edge of your seat for the rest of what will surely be an exhilarating series.
Unfortunately, you need not prepare. The excitement contained within the six 45-minute long episodes of Black Angels peaks during this first minute. Each episode of the series leaves you wanting more: something more dramatic, more unpredictable and more eventful.
It is hard to pin-point exactly why Black Angels (based on the crime novels by Aevar Örn Jósepsson) seems to miss the mark. The series is equipped with all of the standard ingredients of the ever-popular crime drama: the shaky hand-held camera shots which make everything feel so “real,” a few main players who make up the crime solving team, a mixed bag of shady characters serving as the suspects and a few twists and turns of the plot.
One thing is for sure, the series’ shortfalls are not due to poor acting. The four actors cast to play the special unit of police officers all deliver great performances and convincing on-screen chemistry. The team includes roles that are familiar to dramas of this type:
Stefán, played by Sigurdur Skúlason, is the wise and experienced veteran who is respected for his experience and crime-solving intuition.
Sólveig Arnarsdóttir plays Katrín, the woman who is perilously balancing her career and family life, still needing to prove her abilities to her sexist male co-workers (despite her 11 years on the force).
Árni, the young rookie cop, is played by Davíd Gudbrandsson. Árni finds himself living in the shadow of his dead father as he learns the ropes of the new job, often screwing up along the way.
The tough cop with a drinking problem and behavioral issues, Gudni, is played by Steinn Ármann Magnússon.
Even with good actors mixed in with aforementioned crime drama standards, the series still falls flat.
Perhaps it is the characters themselves that are lacking; oftentimes the balance between keeping the audience interested in the case and the personal life of the officers falters.
Many story developments can be seen coming from a mile away and so a lot of time is spent waiting for the characters to catch up to where you already know the story is going.
I would not go so far as to say I was bored while watching the series but it is difficult to stay interested when you are not invested in what is happening to the characters. You are most certainly along for the ride in this series, but it is a long, slow and sometimes dull ride.
The cliff-hangers that are needed to propel one episode to the next are missing (or rather the cliffs are only high enough for you to believe it possible for one to walk away with little more that a swollen ankle or bruised knee if they were to fall) and so perhaps the momentum of Black Angels would have been stronger if the story was told in fewer episodes.
The series does have its dramatic and even comedic moments but they are few and far between the routine of: get assignment, drive to interview people, receive tip on cell phone, find out that *gasp* not everyone tells the truth and that people, although they claimed to be innocent, are actually connected to the crimes!
The twists and turns that are present are, for the most part, nothing to write home about.
The action does pick-up significantly during the end of the series. A very interesting plot point relating to the Iceland’s National Security Unit also develops later on, which gives viewers everywhere some food for thought when it comes to civil rights and privacy.
But, even after all of the big mysteries are solved, one is left feeling that the mysteries and motives themselves were not all that impressive to begin with.
Although Black Angels includes most of the elements an average desensitized viewer comes to expect from a crime drama (sex, blood, murder, infidelity, corruption and violence), something does not quite fit which means it falls short being able to move past “so-so” and on to remarkable.
It all may come down to a matter of balance. There are some story lines that you want to see more of, but instead are raced through in the series.
Other less stimulating events get dragged out long after you have had your fill of them. Maybe a slight reshuffling of its focus is the key for this series to restore a balance that works.
With all of its potential, I really do want to like this series; it is not bad, but it is not great. Likewise, I would not discourage anyone from seeing it, but I would not call it a “must-see” either.
Alana Odegard – [email protected]
Ready and willing to watch anything that comes her way, Alana has an unquenchable thirst for the motion picture art form. Alana studied film as part of her B.A. degree and as the story so often goes, she is tirelessly trying to find ways to surround herself with the enchanting world of film. She hopes this passion will one day spill over from the realm of pastime to likewise envelop that of fulltime day-job as well.