Reykjavik-Rotterdam -- Film Review

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PALM SPRINGS -- It's easy to see why "Reykjavik-Rotterdam," a lean and well-paced crime thriller of the one-last-job subgenre, has inspired an English-language redo. Iceland's entry in the foreign-language Oscar race might not be the usual Academy-favored fare, but its kinetic energy and bursts of brutal violence rest upon a solid foundation of well-defined characters and dry humor, however credulity-straining its event-laden final stretch. Whether the makeover, intended as a vehicle for Mark Wahlberg, will be infused with the same northern chill as this handsome widescreen feature remains to be seen.

In fleet fashion, the crisp script sets up the triangle at the heart of the story: struggling Reykjavik security guard Christopher (Baltasar Kormakur, who will direct the remake), his wife, Iris (Lilja Nott Thorarinsdottir) and his best friend, Steingrimur (Ingvar Sigurdsson), a successful businessman and fellow AA member who used to be involved with Iris. A former freight-ship worker who's in debt and on probation after serving time for liquor bootlegging, Christopher swallows his pride every time his pal offers him and his family cast-off furniture or appliances, making way for the newer models filling his well-appointed home.

The psychological tension ratchets up a few levels after Iris' screw-up of a younger brother (Jorundur Ragnarsson) lands in trouble for a botched bootlegging run on a freighter to Rotterdam. Against his instincts and the wishes of his wife, Christopher agrees to Steingrimur's plan that he go to the Netherlands on one final job, not only to show his young brother-in-law the ropes but to get himself out of debt. Steingrimur finances the trip and smooths the way for Christopher's return to the shipping line, where his buddies eagerly enlist in the scheme, and the vigilant captain never doubts for an instant that they're up to no good.

As conflicted as Christopher is to be bootlegging again, there's no question that the dangerous lure of the mission ignites a sense of purpose in him. He confidently oversees an inventive stratagem onboard and navigates his way through double-crosses at both ends of the trip. Back home, as violence threatens Iris and their two sons, Steingrimur steps in to offer safe haven.

Kormakur and Sigurdsson (who worked together, as director and star, respectively, in the crime drama "Jar City") are convincing as friends who might not really like each other, each in his own way caught between divergent goals. Their characters are multidimensional but not over-explained. Bergsteinn Bjorgulfsson's supple, vivid camerawork is a crucial element of the storytelling, defining the players and the places without fuss. The action is tight and unpredictable, although a pileup of coincidences in the late going undermines viewer involvement. Saving the day is a pair of sight-gag punchlines that place the value of commodities -- drugs, booze, modern art -- in the eye of the beholder.

Venue: Palm Springs International Film Festival

Production company: Blueeyes Prods.
World sales: NonStop Sales
Cast: Baltasar Kormakur, Ingvar Sigurdsson, Lilja Nott Thorarinsdottir, Jorundur Ragnarsson
Director: Oskar Jonasson
Screenwriters: Arnaldur Indridason, Oskar Jonasson
Producers: Agnes Johansen, Baltasar Kormakur
Director of photography: Bergsteinn Bjorgulfsson
Production designer: Haukur Karlsson
Music: Bardi Johannsson
Editor: Elisabet Ronaldsdottir
No rating, 86 minutes
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