Thursday, September 23, 2021


As great a character actor as Mads Mikkelsen has been in America—and he’s been reliably among our finest heavies in Casino Royale, Hannibal, Rogue One, and “Bitch Better Have My Money”—it’s when you see him in action in his native Denmark that he reveals even more extra soulful layers. He always has that presence, the stillness combined with height, the dark eyes and angular facial features, bringing a weight, while the complications in his flickering placid countenance imply inner storms. He’s fluid and solid at once, a dramaturg’s mind in a dancer’s body. In this way, he carries the melancholy of complicated lives, and the latent potential for taking control however he can. With a nearly imperceptible wetness in his eyes, the slightest of stoops in his regal frame, he sells the deepest griefs, and the most intractable resigned dissatisfactions. He uses his striking figure to subtle effect.

He anchors Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round with these qualities. It’s a film that, otherwise, to describe it, sounds like a boozy lark, the sort of thing Will Ferrell or Vince Vaughn might’ve made twenty years ago. There’s a group of middle-aged high-school teachers who have found their lives growing stale. When one proposes a novel theory that man’s natural blood alcohol limit is a smidgen too low, and thus their daily routines would be improved by maintaining a slight buzz at all times, they figure it’s worth a shot. Indeed, there is some comedy in this conceit as some of the guys find that, actually, it works for them. Mikkelsen, in particular, goes from a sluggish, boring lecturer into a loose, engaging teacher bringing his subject to life with energy and skill. You can see the sparkle of mischief in his, and his pal’s, eyes. And yet, Vinterberg, veteran of the same cohort of Danish filmmakers that gave us the merciless provocateur Lars von Trier, and maker of plenty bleak films of his own, is too attuned to the details of lived experiences to let this be a careless pro-alcoholism goof or a miserable scared-straight tragedy. Instead, he lets the scenes breathe, and gives his cast room for wandering into mixtures of tones as jobs, relationships, and families teeter on the brink of familiar strife in quasi-comic observational ways your friends’ and neighbors’ might. There’s a casual ambiguity to the picture that makes for a wobbling melancholy, a sense of mid-life ennui that burbles with half-spoken regrets and uneasy contentment. By the end, with an unexpected eruption of a dance party, it’s clear it’s a movie about people who need a release from the ordinary, however they can get it, in hopes of finding a better way to cope with their quotidian woes.

Steelier is Mikkelsen’s role in Anders Thomas Jensen's Riders of Justice, an ice-pick of a revenge thriller with a harrowing inciting incident, rounds of ammunition, and bloody consequences. One can almost imagine Liam Neeson in an American remake. (I hope I didn’t just jinx it.) But the film, like Vinterberg’s, is a nervier and more ambiguous statement within what threatens to be a more conventional experience. It finds a tragic train accident taking the life of Mikkelsen’s wife. He, a military man, returns home to comfort his daughter. That’s where he’s confronted by a man with a theory that the derailment was no accident, but the work of a criminal biker gang hoping to kill a witness in an upcoming trial. The smartest aspect of the screenplay is that we’re never quite sure if the theory is correct, even as Mikkelsen, eschewing therapy for gunfire, teams up with the bumbling conspirators as the muscle they need to investigate and, eventually, pick off the bikers in a variety of action sequences. These are shot not for easy John Wick flair or swooning Tarantino exploitation. They’re down-and-gritty, stumbling with the rough rhythms and painful violence one might expect from such an amateurish outfit. Here’s a revenge thriller that, sure, inhabits the usual talking points about how violence is never the answer and revenge is a path that leads to escalating blowback at worst, and soul-draining dissatisfaction at best. But the film also doesn’t ask us to thrill to the action, even as it finds an absorbing suspense. It’s rooted in character, as everyone from Mikkelsen to his posse—who admit their own tragic circumstances, past and present—to his grieving daughter find themselves caught up in the despair of loss and the futility they feel in escaping it. The result is an unusually gripping off-kilter depressive thriller that somehow hits the expected genre beats with enough syncopation to keep one guessing.

No comments:

Post a Comment