Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Black's Game (Svartur á leik)

BLACK’S GAME (Svartur á leik)                    B                     
Iceland  (88 mi) or (104 mi)  2011  ‘Scope  d:  Óskar Thór Axelsson

Showing the direct influence of director Nicolas Winding Refn as executive producer, this is a film that plays it fast and loose, where the stylistic aggression pulsates a manic energy throughout the film, targeting a youth-driven market.  Initially this in-your-face style is offbeat and humorous, where the edgy subject matter, an exposé of the underworld drug scene in Iceland, draws you into this initially intriguing story.  And who can not love shots of Reykjavik in the snow, with wintry mountains looming off in the distance?  For some, this is as close as we’ll ever get there, so we may as well enjoy the ride.  The thrilling opening is a drug induced adrenal blast, a speed-laced montage of the last moments of consciousness before passing out, where the narrator acerbically reminds us that back in the 90’s, “This shit actually happened.”  In the immediate aftermath, the character Stebbi (Thor Kristjansson) remembers nothing, which unfortunately is what information he has to report to the police in explaining his violent actions of the night before.  As he steps outside the police station, he runs into an old neighborhood friend, now a full-fledged dope dealer and gangster, Tóti (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson), recognizable by his bulky physique and array of tattoos.  Tóti immediately has a job for him, with the alluring promise that his own  personal lawyer will get him off all charges if he’ll pull off this request, which is to search an apartment that’s already been scoured by the cops for something stashed in a secret hiding place.  In a zany glimpse of his search, with moments of fast-paced photography, Stebbi finds what he’s looking for, but immediately encounters a surprise visit by a gargantuan sized thug carrying weapons, where a blitz of changing speeds is reduced to slow motion, where Stebbi is beating the crap out of the guy with a baseball bat and would have killed him if Tóti had not intervened, checking him out with a smile, calling him Stebbi Psycho. 

Apparently passing the test, Stebbi is invited into the gang, paid a handsome salary, where he is also given free access to huge amounts of drugs that they distribute, but also use on a regular basis to party hard, where he is also introduced to Dagný, María Birta, a voluptuous blond coke head who has the run of the place.  His entry into this criminal underworld is a thrill ride, an action packed movie featuring a battle of wills with rival gangs competing for the same turf, where violent mayhem pretty much describes the mood, where Tóti and Stebbi Psycho simply get more crazy and fucked up than the other guys, revealing the makings of a drug trafficking network that is only expanding.  Shot in ‘Scope by Bergsteinn Björgúlfsson, the film mixes in gorgeous wintry landscapes with slow motion, quick cuts, and the use of split screen to dramatize something that is a part of Reykjavik history, as small time operators were quickly moved out by a more organized criminal element, where drugs were literally pouring into the city, becoming a coke-fused wonderland.  When they join forces with a psychotic gangster from Amsterdam, Bruno (Damon Younger), he literally brutalizes everyone to demonstrate who’s in charge, much like a biker gang leader might do, changing the tone of the film to something more graphically violent and disturbing.  The complexity of their operation becomes so complicated that one could only expect things would eventually spiral out of control.  The descent is as quick as the rise, where Stebbi witnesses it all first hand, just a player in a game he can barely comprehend.  Tóti, especially, is a likeable hard ass, as the guy loves to party and share the wealth, but Bruno is something else entirely, as he’s a head case.  All this leaves Stebbi wondering how to make his way out, but there’s too many roads leading him back in, turning much of this film into a blur of fast-paced action, with a non-stop musical soundtrack, impressive for a first-time feature filmmaker, turning our lead anti-hero into a guy living in a perpetual wasteland of neverending parties and drug operations, becoming the 2nd highest grossing Icelandic movie in history. 

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