LIST: 5 Gloomy Icelandic Crime Films Perfect for Winter Nights
NOTE: Beneath the end of the list, you can find the posters and details for each film selected.
"JAR CITY" ("Myrin"/2006)
A worthy adaptation of Arnaldur Indridason's milestone crime novel of the same title, Jar City is a dark police procedural featuring an idiosyncratic protagonist, Inspector Erlendur (Ingvar Sigurdsson), one of the most beloved characters in Nordic crime fiction, despite his trademark grumpiness. Directed by the popular Icelandic auteur Baltasar Kormákur, who is the man responsible some of the most striking television and cinematic achievements originating from the little country in the North Atlantic, the film narrates a dim story involving the murder of an elderly man in his house that is connected with the death of a little girl, caused by a rare disease. The investigation will lead Erlendur and his team, consisting of Sigurður Óli (Sigurður Óli) and Elinborg (Ólafía Hrönn Jónsdóttir), to the unearthing of long buried secrets, corruption, and controversial medical practices. There are those who claim that the novel, and the film by extension, is a veiled critique on the gene-gathering work of the Icelandic company deCODE genetics, an Icelandic biopharmaceutical company, established in 1996 in order to develop treatments for serious diseases, using population genetic studies. Anyway, Jar City is one of the most distinguished Icelandic crime movies ever and it should be your first choice if you are interested in learning more about the regional crime fiction scene.
"THE OATH" ("Eiðurinn"/2016)
Another illustrious movie by Baltasar Kormákur, who this time also holds the role of the protagonist, a middle-aged doctor, Finnur, who becomes entangled with Reykjavik's underbelly when she tries to save his teenage daughter, Anna (Hera Hilmar), from the destructive influence exerted from her boyfriend, Óttar (Gísli Örn Garðarsson), a thug involved with drug trafficking and other criminal activities. The film's title is a reference to the Hippocratic Oath, sworn by doctors after completing their studies, a theme that permeates the essence of the story as at some point in the movie, Finnur will have to make a decision that negates his principal ethical and professional values in order to shield Anna from a dangerous partner. The visuals are scintillating and the performances by all the members of the cast stand on the highest level, rendering The Oath a real treat to watch. The slow-burn pacing of the story gradually escalates and reaches a climax that resolves the questions raised by the plot and provide the much-needed catharsis to the audience. The movie was the top-grossing Icelandic silver-screen production for 2016 and won commercial as well as critical acclaim.
One of the lesser-known Icelandic titles, Vultures is the dismal story about two brothers, the young and promising entrepreneur Erik (Gísli Örn Garðarsson) and Atli, an ex-convict who tries to get his life back on track after his incarceration. Despite the tension and veiled antagonism that undermines the siblings' relationship, they join their forces in order to import a substantial amount of cocaine from Europe through Reykjavik's airport security. The mule is a young Polish woman, Sofia (Anna Próchniak), who swallows several packages of the stuff and travels to the Icelandic capital. Unfortunately, things don't go as planned and Sofia is forced to stay in a shabby hotel room along with Atli who is responsible for her. It seems that the young girl has suffered an explosion of a package inside her stomach, putting her life in imminent danger. The result is a descent to hell for Erik and Atli who watch as their lives are put in grave danger, compelling them to commit even the most terrible of deeds to save their skin. The title's reference is made clear in the final scene of the movie, causing shock to the audience. The story's bleakness combined with the overall melancholic tone generated by the sense of impending doom make Vultures a difficult watching experience, not suitable for everyone, but only to those who seek this kind of mood in the films that they relish.
Óskar Jónasson's Reykjavik-Rotterdam features an all-star Icelandic cast with the usual suspect, Baltasar Kormákur in the leading role and Ingvar Sigurdsson, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Jóhannes Haukur Johanesson, and Magnús Jónsson completing the team of first-rate performers framing the production. It should be noted that the screenplay is co-authored by the godfather of Icelandic crime fiction, the great Arnaldur Indridason who collaborated with the director in the screenwriting process. Moreover, the films has been remade in the U. S. under the title Contraband (2012) directed by Kormákur and starring Mark Wahlberg and Kate Beckinsale. The movie's plot revolves around the decision made by the protagonist, Christopher, a known alcohol smuggler, to make one last trip in order to find the money needed to keep his family together. Travelling to Rotterdam will prove to be an adventurous expedition with a lot of surprises in store for the boat's motley crew. Reykjavik-Rotterdam is suspenseful and funny in tandem with a solid script that transcends several genres and a wide set of slippery and crooked characters whose interactions are frequently hilarious. It is not a lengthy film and there is a complete lack of anything redundant in terms of the plotting's tightness as well as the editing of the scenes. If you are searching for a leisurely, genuinely entertaining watch, then you check this one out at once.
"BLACK'S GAME" ("Svartur á leik"/2012)
If we are talking about the contemporary Icelandic cinema, the the name of Óskar Thór Axelsson is bound to crop up as the multi-talented director, screenwriter, and cinematographer breathes fresh air to the country's movie industry. His involvement in immensely successful silver screen and television productions such as the chilling horror film I Remember You (2017) and the internationally renowned TV series Trapped, that became one of the top Nordic television exports of the last decade, prove that Axelsson is in top of his game and leaves many promises for his future project. Black's Game is his take on the machinations taking Reykjavik's underbelly that is outlined with dim colors and a realistic depiction of the thug lifestyle. Thor Kristjansson, playing "Stebbi psycho", shares great chemistry with Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson, who is Tóti, and the duo of the protagonists shine on screen with their truthful rendition of their respective roles. The movie is not sharing any kinship with the generic American mafia movies and there are some times that even becomes disturbing, shocking the audience without ever squandering the force of its primal energy. Axelsson's 2012 motion picture deserve a place in the top-5 Icelandic crime movies of the 2010s and it warrants your complete attention.
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