I do love me some foreign thrillers, which seem to be able to continually find new ways to keep me on my toes without forgetting to layer in some characters and a certain level of quality. Movies like the recent Headhunters, or The Double Hour, or Point Blank, or Bullhead, or Red Lights, they come out in smaller indie theaters and they keep me totally entertained without forgetting that I have a brain, and leave me totally satisfied. And this one looked like another, and was getting great reviews, and was playing at Film Forum, leaching off of that theater's reputation for quality art films, and everything looked great for it... except that the film itself is a well-made, sentimental bore that does little more than assemble cliches from other crime films.
We open with an exciting prison break. Personally, I don't think it's a good idea for prisons to leave convenient ropes for escaping prisoners to easily scale their walls, but hey, what do I know. Jorge, our prisoner in question, runs easily through the surrounding wide-open fields of grass with nary a shot being fired, and is easily picked up by his friend in a nearby car. Apparently escaping from Swedish prisons of far less challenging than the trials of the average reality show. The police also never come looking for him either (or it is mentioned in passing that they just left), allowing him to just walk around freely. He has a sister who is about to have a baby and whose husband doesn't want Jorge to come around.
Meanwhile, our main character, JW, is a blond cab driver who could easily be pegged to play David Bowie in a bio film. He is poor but aspires to wealth, symbolized by his taping up of pictures from GQ, and his spending his money on looking like he has money. He goes to a weekend at a wealthy person's house in the country, where he meets Sophie, attractive and rich socialite. The whole sequence is to set up how badly JW aspires to have money. He is called by the Arabic owner of his cab company to pick up a guy and take him somewhere, which will net him twenty thousand. It sounds like.... EASY MONEY.
Meanwhile this Serbian thug has picked up Jorge and is beating him up in the woods, when JW diverts them and rescues him. JW takes Jorge home and is instructed to keep him there for a thousand a day. Meanwhile, the Serbian thug, Mrado, has his eight year old daughter forced on him by the state because her mother is a drug addict. So he's stuck with her for the rest of the film. If it seems like this film is trying to play on the modern intersection of these numerous ethnic subcultures, as you've seen in other crime films such as Bullhead, why, you're right.
So it would seem that the Arabs, represented by the guys who own JW's cab company, have taken over the cocaine business from the Serbs, that's Mrado and friends, and they want it back. They're going to start a big war amongst these factions. They do, and for a while it's tit-for-tat shootings and bombings and.... oh, excuse me, I dozed off for a second there. It's all building up to this big shipment of cocaine that is coming in to the Arabs, who employ JW and Jorge, and will be intercepted by the Serbs, and... you can see what's coming from ten miles away. It comes, precisely as expected.
Along the way this film shoots itself in the foot with some eye-rolling sentimentality, such as having the young girl playing with her dollies on the bed as her dad is buying assault rifles, and Jorge, at his mother's side in the hospital on the day of the big crime, promising his mother that he'll never go away again, but he just has to go to the bathroom....
It all goes down smoothly, and if this exact film hadn't been made three hundred thousand times before, it would be pretty good. It's decently written and has some ideas, and executes the template set by countless other crime films fairly well, while throwing in a newfangled globalization polish for added relevance. But it's still just a copy, and lacks spark and imagination.
And it doesn't help that I just saw Headhunters, which kept me thrilled and excited while also having a rich character interaction, a subtext, and an overall structure that is interesting. That film had a fascinating structure where the villain and hero change places over the course of the film, and the hero has to endure numerous humiliations in order for us to like him, and all of the action hinges on a carefully-calibrated emotional core. It also smartly took the story in all sorts of unexpected directions, and didn't mind being entertaining.
In fact, I think the fact that Headhunters was entertaining is somewhat held against it, and that this movie successfully enacts well-known cliches is, counter-intuitively, the reason why this film is somehow hailed as being of higher quality. People don't trust movies that show you a good time. Also, Headhunters required one to think about why its hero endured such punishment and the structure wasn't on the surface. Here, everything is right there on the surface, easy to figure out and see how "good" it is. I say skip this and find Headhunters. Or Bullhead.
It's not awful, it's just that there are so many better movies exactly like it.