Written by Films

Northwest and Kon Tiki

The Northwest, or Nordvest, of Copenhagen seems to be rough part of town. Let’s put it this way, you didn’t see much of it in The Killing or Borgen. It’s where the impoverished working class live, with kids falling helplessly into a life of crime.

Casper is a young lad who burgles for a living. He looks at houses for sale online, and picks out expensive designer furniture and electronics that he wants to steal with his friend Robin. He then fences the stolen gear with Jamal, even though he knows he’s being ripped off.

Casper and his younger brother Andy live with their mum, and much younger sister in a tiny flat in the Northwest. Casper does what he can for his family, but his brother is trouble too even though their mum is trying to keep his nose cleaner than Casper has managed.

Then one day Casper meets Bjorn who’ll offer him much fairer prices. Before he knows it, he’s working full time for Bjorn delivering prostitutes around town and supplying drugs, having roped in his younger brother to help out.

We know that this is not going to end well.

The director has a background in documentaries, and it seems that for this film, he’s used a cast made up of unknowns and shot it in a documentary style with lots of hand-held camera-work. He’s got some great performances from his cast, including the two real-life brothers who have what are essentially the two lead roles.

The story does feel raw and real. Although it’s not without its own flaws. We know that the film is going to head into a certain direction, and it does so without fail. During one scene, I knew that Casper was going to get a call on his mobile because it had been telegraphed a mile off. Of course, he did indeed get that call.

But in spite of those flaws, it’s worth catching if it comes around. I can’t find a UK release date for the film.

I must be honest, having quite enjoyed the film, even though there were some flaws as I mentioned, I was left a little disappointed by the film’s director and co-writer, Michael Noer. He just seemed to be trying too hard. The reason he’d made the film, he told us, was because his first film had been set in a prison, and after that he’d made Facebook friends with loads of prisoners. He could get a stolen car or a gun no problem. Oh, and by the way, if you can’t find the film legally, he could tell us another way to get it.

How had he got the dialogue right for his young actors? He’d hung out, smoking weed, and playing Fifa with them until he was accepted and could tell how they sounded naturally. He knows more about gang culture in Denmark than his once estranged father who is a policeman. And one of the actors in the film? He’s back in prison now.

It was almost as though he was trying to be the cool kid at school. He’s got all the mates. He can sort you out.

Maybe it was just honesty. But it came across as showing-off.

When I was a child, there was a big old bookcase in my bedroom that housed lots of old novels that used to belong to my parents. There were lots of orange penguins, and a collection of Pan editions of James Bond dating from the sixties. In amongst all of them was a curious book that I never got around to reading much further than the back cover – Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific in a Raft – written by someone called Thor Heyerdahl.

And essentially that’s all I really knew about this actually rather famous voyage that took place during 1947. I knew that it had been ridiculously dangerous. And the fact that the author had managed to write a book about it, kind of suggested that he probably didn’t die en route.

Kon-Tiki was actually one of the nominated films in the Foreign Language category of the 2013 Oscars (losing out to Amour). The film is a dramatic telling of that crossing, as Heyerdahl leads a small crew of mostly Norwegians across the Pacific from Peru to Polynesia. He had become convinced that prevailing wisdom was wrong, and that the islands had not been inhabited from Asia, but from South America.

He decided, in a strange post-World War II world – to try to prove that theory by using the currents of the Pacifc to get to the islands without the means of modern technology.

The mostly Norwegian cast is led by Pål Sverre Hagen who ably portrays Heyerdahl. Seemingly he was selected as the preferred actor following a newspaper asking Heyerdahl’s sun who should play him. The film is well directed by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg (who apparently have landed the next Pirates of the Caribbean film as a result).

The film looks superb, and effects are well woven into the narrative. It’s always hard to stay the course with a slow voyage like this that lasts over a hundred days. But the structure works in its favour for the most part.

What I was surprised to find was that the film was in English throughout. From what I could tell, most of the money seemed to originate in Scandinavia, and the richness of the film would suggest that it was one of the more expensive productions to be made in that part of the world. But the fact that the first production credit was from the Weistein Company perhaps explains a good deal. Jeremy Thomas is a key producer on the film, and this seems to have been something of a labour of love, with him having met Heyerdahl before his death, and having worked on getting this made for more than 15 years.

In fact, it seems that there are actually two versions of the film – the English version that we saw, and a version in Norwegian. On stage this was explained to us as simply a matter of repeating the same scene first in Norwegian, then in English, and perhaps then again in Norwegian. Norwegians, of course, are largely fluent in English. However it does seem that the Norwegian language version of the film is significantly longer too. That doesn’t make it better, a common misconception being that the longer a film is, the better it is, but that’s an interesting fact of itself.

I fear that the flaws that I think the film has perhaps come from too much interference in the international version of the film. Occasionally you feel as though the script is on autopilot. Even though this is a remarkable true story, at times it feels as though we’re watching a TV movie of the week, with tensions heightened needlessly. Indeed we learnt that one key scene was entirely made up for the film, even though it painted a fundamentally flawed picture of that character.

At times, it did feel a bit schmaltzy. So we have to open with a “defining” moment in the young Heyerdahl’s life when he’s saved after falling through the ice on a frozen lake. Then we have his poor wife, left behind for months on end in Norway.

But in the end, I did enjoy it. And if nothing else, it makes me want to read the book that I never got around to.

And there is one standout scene that I absolutely loved in the film that came out of nowhere. We’re looking at the raft in the moonlight as the camera pulls back upwards, way way into the sky, through the clouds, and then finally into space where it twists around to show as the stars and our galaxy before spinning once more and returning to earth. It’s a beautiful moment (and a little reminiscent of the other night’s Gravity).

Oddly enough, the film opened over a year ago in Norway, and it’s taken this long to get around to a British screening. Indeed, the film has long gone in most territories, yet I can’t actually find a release date for the UK. It would be a shame for the film to end up solely on DVD since, whatever it’s failings, it does look beautiful.