Review by Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir.
Much anticipation surrounded the premiere of the Icelandic thriller Black’s Game (Svartur á leik), directed by Óskar Þór Axelsson, at the Rotterdam International Film Festival in January 2012.
The film’s executive producer was Nicolas Winding Refn, the director of the critically-acclaimed Drive.
When Black’s Game opened in Icelandic cinemas in early March, it became an immediate hit with 60,000 tickets sold (that’s almost 20 percent of the population), and an income of more than ISK 60 million (USD 464,000, EUR 369,000), making it the fourth-highest-earning Icelandic movie ever made.
I too was tempted to see what all the fuss was about and was thoroughly impressed, mainly by the performance of the three male leads.
I barely recognized the chameleon of an actor, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson, who is brilliant at comedy but proved to be equally at ease in his role as the brutal and buff gang leader Tóti.
Rising star Þorvaldur Davíð Kristjánsson convincingly portrayed the troubled and torn youngster Stebbi, whose inner demon gets him caught up in a sticky situation, and Damon Younger really made me detest the twisted and ruthless Brúnó.
Based on a novel by Stefán Máni, the storyline includes events that are said to have occurred in the Icelandic underworld in the 1990s, painting an ugly picture of a country that prides itself on being peaceful.
I found it shocking that the film is set some 15 years ago, graphically depicting drug trafficking, beatings, animal abuse, rape, sex orgies and cocaine consumption of mountainous proportions, when the media has only recently started to report such events as reflective of the reality of crime in Iceland. At least that’s how I’ve perceived it.
In my opinion, the filmmakers could have made a bigger effort in making the timing of the story realistic. Even though the style of clothing, hairstyles and huge mobiles brought you back to the 1990s in some scenes, others were clearly shot today.
For example, in one scene the whole gang buys new suits, but instead of being big and bulky as was fashionable 15 years ago, they were tight and slim-fitted as suits are currently worn.
Regardless of its authenticity, Black’s Game belongs to a new generation of dark Icelandic thrillers, in which each new film has to top the next in terms of sex, drugs and violence. It was a little too much for my taste and I hope this development won’t continue.
The movie is fast paced, keeping the viewers on the edge of their seats, perhaps even making them feel compelled to cover their eyes during the most obscene parts.
My attention certainly never trailed off, although I generally prefer a clever plot that riddles the mind to a ride on the superhighway to destruction.
However, the film also includes a hint of a love story with Stebbi hopelessly falling for the gang’s babe Dagný (María Birta Bjarnadóttir), and the film’s ending is sure to leave viewers with a lot of questions.
Too many questions, perhaps? I, at least, was curious to know what had happened in the five years or so that had passed prior to the ending.
Overall, Black’s Game is a solid thriller, which is unlikely to disappoint fans of the genre, featuring a star league of Icelandic actors, who all proved their worth in their first heavy-weight roles.
Black’s Game is currently being screened with English subtitles at Bíó Paradís in central Reykjavík. Once released on DVD, it will become available in webstores such as nammi.is and shopicelandic.com.