Jar City

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TELLURIDE, Colo. -- Death and decay hang over the already bleak terrain in "Jar City," an atmospheric if by-the-book police procedural written and directed by Iceland's Baltasar Kormakur.

While generally intriguing, the film, which took top prize this year at Karlovy Vary, doesn't quite succeed in weaving its many intertwined themes into a satisfying whole by its conclusion.

But the colorful performances and quirky touches still make for another engaging slice of contemporary Icelandic life from the director of "101 Reykjavik" and "The Sea."

Adapted by Kormakur from a novel in a popular detective series by Arnaldur Indridason, "Jar City" concerns what would appear to be the isolated murder of a solitary old man in his apartment, but upon further investigation, Erlunder, a no-nonsense veteran police detective (Ingvar Sigurdsson) and his team uncover clues and possible motives that go back several decades.

By the time forensics steps in, the plot as thickened considerably, with the list of suspects including corrupt policemen and contentious medical practices.

Throughout, Kormakur appears to delight in piling on the accompanying rot, often juxtaposing grisly sequences with those of eating dinner--if you ever had a hankering for sheep's head take-out--this should effectively nip it in the bud.

That element of black humor, combined with the nicely dimensional performances led by Sigurdsson, provide an earthy counterpoint to all the desolation, evocatively captured by cinematographer Bergsteinn Bjorgulfsson.

Still, the at times confusing proceedings ultimately fall short of delivering the goods.

Ironically, "Spider," a nine-minute Australian short which preceded the film's Telluride screening, packed the audience-rousing punch that "Jar City" kept promising.
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