City State (Iceland: Borgríki), 2011.
Starring Philip Jackson, Jonathan Pryce, Ágústa Eva Erlendsdóttir, Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson and Sigurður Sigurjónsson.
Set in modern day Iceland, an immigrant vows revenge after losing his unborn child in an attack by a crime syndicate, thereby binding his fate with a troubled policewoman, her corrupt police commander, and a crime lord who’s losing his edge.
It’s hard to detail the plot in just a few sentences as there is so much going on in the film that it can be hard to keep up. There is a troubled Serbian immigrant, a corrupt cop, a beaten down business man, his son who is in love with his father’s girlfriend and may or may not have got her pregnant, and a policewoman looking for revenge against her partner with whom she is also having an affair. All the stories intertwine with one and other with beautiful elegance and precision, but it doesn’t always quite work.
The film begins by using a time-jumping motif while setting up its characters, making City State an almost Icelandic Pulp Fiction. However this motif doesn’t keep up as the film progresses into the second act which means that you never get quite settled into the pace of the movie as you are always expecting to jump to another point. It’s a shame as the time and location jumping worked really well in establishing tone and setting, even if it did feel quite fragmented and, at times, overly-convoluted.
Once you finally get settled into the structure of the movie you are treated to a very well told story with excellent characters, well constructed motives and a storyline that will keep you gripped until the very end. My only problem with the storyline is that there are no clear-cut heroes and villains. Sergej would appear to be the movies antagonist because of his violent nature, but he is doing things for the right reason. Gunnar is often portrayed as the villain but at the end of the day he was trying to get out of his criminal underworld after suffering a heart attack and is, somewhat unfairly, thrown into turmoil. The corrupt Margeir is clearly a bad copper, but his sad and pathetic home life (or lack thereof) actually makes him a sympathetic loner who is just looking for the right woman. Troubled policewoman Andrea is the most likely for the hero award as she avenges her injured partner, but she is breaking up a family in the process. Perhaps Johannsson is trying to tell us that in this life there are no heroes or villains and there are just people who have their own motives, which is an interesting idea in this modern world of cinema, but it does mean that certain characters can’t receive the emotional involvement needed from their audience as we’re not sure how we should feel about them.
Aside from that, my only other complaint about the movie is the subtitle work which at times can be infuriatingly difficult to get past. It’s often not in time with whoever is speaking and worse still, the scenes which are spoken in English don’t have subtitles that match up with the dialogue from the characters on screen. This can be a distracting annoyance which could have easily have been fixed in post production.
But where the movie really works is in its performances. Every actor from the main cast to the supporting roles pull out an acting master class that make you believe in everything they say and do. It makes it all the more better when it gets to a particularly violent scene as you really feel everything that is happening and buy into every moment like it was happening in your living room. Viewers of a squeamish disposition may struggle to get through some scenes as it can be quite harrowing at times, but it’s worth it just to see what you get on to the other side.
City State is not always perfect and at times is very flawed, but beneath it all of its problems is an excellent movie that deserves to be seen. It’s not a classic by any stretch of the imagination, but if you can get past its often poor subtitles and odd pacing then you will be rewarded with a good, hard hitting drama that will rival most mainstream cinema releases this year.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Luke Owen is a freelance copywriter working for Europe’s biggest golf holiday provider as their web content executive.