This is a taut, edgy, highly believable and compelling piece of work. Its story is simple but its acting and realist documentary direction make for highly powerful viewing.

It stars one of Denmark’s leading actors Kim Bodnia as Frank, a tough and unrepentant drug dealer. From the opening the viewer is totally immersed into his world. The making of his daily rounds reveals his aggressive and no nonsense approach to business.

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He is first seen with his partner in crime intimidating a buyer into paying far over the odds. The camera is always moving, following a purely Frank’s eye view of the world. He and Tonny (Mads Mikkelsen) drive around talking trash and engaging in serious nighttime debauchery. Their underground Copenhagen lifestyle and friendship are utterly compelling.

Things start to go wrong for Frank when he buys a large amount of heroin on credit from local drug lord Milo (Zlatko Buric). At the subsequent sale, the police intercept things. Frank escapes in a dramatic foot chase, jumping into the lake with the merchandise. He is subsequently interrogated by undercover cops and released - but now has a serious problem in owing a large amount of money to the drug kingpin. This is the key source of narrative tension in the film, leading to Frank’s descent into hell as more and more doors are slammed in his face. Bodnia is a revelation in the lead role, exuding a tough, animal masculinity which grows progressively more vulnerable and desperate as malign fate takes over his destiny.

The film does everything right in its portrayal of a character on the run. It’s, above all, a film about an unstable human being, unable to show his emotions and living in an increasingly dangerous criminal milieu. This may not be the most original plot but on a stylistic and emotional level it works. Perhaps because its Denmark’s first real gangster film but more so for its director’s solid cinematic influences, edgy documentary style and insistence on emotional authenticity.

The characters are searingly real. Drug lord Milo is longhaired and idiosyncratic in his enjoyment of baking. He tries to remain civil but this becomes increasingly impossible as Frank is unable to pay him. The desperation is heavily underlined in a scene where Milo’s henchman Radovan, played by real-life doorman Slavko Labovic, goes with Frank to collect money from a debtor. On the way this frightening looking character confesses to a desire to move out of crime and into the restaurant business.

There’s a profound sense that all of these violent characters are stuck in their netherworld, which one day will destroy them. Things go from bad to worse leading Frank to become increasingly desperate. Catch 22 is the order of the day as with an increasing sense of inevitability everything goes wrong.

Refn is influenced by Scorsese and Godard, Cassevetes and underground crime documentaries. The film achieves a style of its own though which has earned it the accolade of the greatest Scandinavian crime film ever and one of the more interesting of recent years.

Reviewed on: 03 Oct 2006
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Seminal gangster film about an unrepentant drug dealer. Out to own as part of the European Mavericks Heart Of Darkness box set.
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Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

Writer: Nicolas Winding Refn and Jens Dahl

Starring: Kim Bodina, Zlatko Buric, Laura Drasbaeck, Slavko Labovic, Mads Mikkelsen

Year: 1996

Runtime: 109 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: Denmark


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