Northwest (Nordvest): Rotterdam Review
Real-life brothers Gustav and Oscar Dyekjaer Giese play teenage siblings in Michael Noer's tough Danish drama.
Teenage kicks reap adult penalties in swaggeringly direct Danish drama Northwest (Nordvest), director/co-writer Michael Noer's smoothly handled but slightly disappointing follow-up to his criminally underappreciated prison picture R (2010). Having world-premiered at Gothenberg on Jan. 27, it played Rotterdam the next day and will doubtless enjoy numerous further festival outings before and after its domestic release in April.
But while there's no shortage of talent on both sides of the camera, overall there's not quite enough that's distinctive or original to justify much in the way of theatrical distribution outside receptive Scandinavian territories. And the subdued, discreet presentation of violence and bloodshed, nearly all of it off-screen, won't exactly be a boost to DVD prospects.
Real-life teenage brothers Gustav and Oscar Dyekjaer Giese, both non-pros, are compellingly believable as 18-year-old Caspar and 17-year-old Andy, who live with their mother and much younger sister in the eponymous Copenhagen suburb. While nobody's idea of a gangland ghetto on this evidence, the Northwest apparently has a shady reputation in the Danish capital, though part of this might be explained by prejudice about this racially and culturally mixed area far from the center.
The film itself is even-handed in that regard: The main thrust of the narrative concerns Caspar "graduating" from working with a small-time "Arab" outfit to a more mid-level gang of Caucasian biker goons. This gradual transference of loyalties lands the lad in a whole heap of trouble, and it's not long before Andy also gets involved -- revealing that while this Joseph Gordon-Levitt lookalike might be slightly younger in years, he's much more advanced in terms of confidence and criminal potential.
Unfortunately Noer and his co-writer Rasmus Heisterberg, the latter also responsible for the currently Oscar-nominated A Royal Affair, devote so much screen-time to Caspar that none of the other characters -- Andy, Caspar's buddy Robin (Scottish-Danish rapper Nicholas Westwood Kidd), his new 'boss' Bjorn (Roland Moeller) -- are properly developed. Particularly good value for his limited screen-time is noted Danish street-style artist Clement Blach Petersen, who is a consistent hoot as Bjorn's sidekick, the bellowingly hot-headed meat-head Theis, and energetically steals scene after scene from the peripheries.
Theis' edgy injections of wild comic relief are especially welcome in what's otherwise a decidedly businesslike, downbeat enterprise built up from moody cinematography, susurrant beats, hard-knock hip-hop and razor-edge editing from Denmark's hottest editor, Adam Nielsen.
Nielsen's contributions were also crucial to R, a "big house" stunner unfairly overshadowed by the near-contemporary A Prophet. Noer co-wrote and co-directed R with Tobias Lindholm, whose sweaty high-seas nailbiter A Hijacking (edited by Nielsen) is currently doing the festival rounds. If Northwest suffers in comparison with its predecessor, that's perhaps because the prison movie so shockingly upended audience expectations of narrative and character development.
This latest project, by contrast, is content to hit familiar mark after familiar mark. As we observe Caspar's rise and predictable fall, Noer's investigations of nascent, testosterone-soaked masculinity, while absorbing, ultimately yield no fresh discoveries, no surprising revelations.
Venue: Rotterdam Film Festival (Bright Future)
Production company: Nordisk
Cast: Gustav Dyekjaer Giese, Oscar Dyekjaer Giese, Lene Maria Christensen, Nicholas Westwood Kidd, Roland Moeller, Dulfi Al-Jaburi, Clement Blach Petersen
Director: Michael Noer
Screenwriter: Michael Noer, Rasmus Heisterberg
Producers: Tomas Radoor, Rene Ezra
Director of photography: Magnus Nordenhof Joenck
Production designer: Thomas Greve
Costume designer: Sune Lolk
Editor: Adam Nielsen
Sales agent: TrustNordisk, Copenhagen
No MPAA rating, 91 minutes