Monday, 5 August 2013

Review: False Trail (2011)

False Trail is a meaty Scandinavian crime drama brought to you by director Kjell Sundvall. It stars Coen-bro' regular Peter Stormare as the bad cop and Wallander himself, Rolf Lassgard as the good. Riding the recent wave of Nordic noir that includes The Killing and The Bridge, here we have a similarly dark thriller. But can its two hour running time pack a punch as powerful as the ten hour plus series that we have now grown accustomed to? False Trail covers familiar territory, beginning with a woman running for her life through picturesque woodland. The mystery is long underway prior to her body later being found brutally slain in a clearing. The finger of suspicion roves pointedly around the local hunting and fishing community, where red herrings inadvertently swallow the bait along the way.

The main suspect in the case is local psychopath Jari Lipponen (Eero Millonoff), who appears to be the scapegoat for any wrongdoing within the community. Rolf Lassgard (star of Wallander) plays Erik, a world-weary and stoic Stockholm detective who has been reluctantly dispatched to the rural backwater he has avoided for years, due to complicated family ties. Here he is forced to work alongside local policeman Torsten (Peter Stormare) whose determination to charge Jari for the murder raises suspicions. Torsten is also the stepfather to Erik's nephew Peter, a teenager also brought up by his besotted mother in a world of twisted secrets. Erik grows closer to his nephew and corrects past wrongs by developing an honest bond and offering his help to Peter in every way he can. However, tragic memories float to the surface as a world of manipulation and brutal abuse is slowly uncovered. As evidence quickly piles up, proving Jari to be the killer, Erik begins his own investigations to prove otherwise...

Fans of The Killing, Wallander and The Bridge on the small screen will find plenty to love here. The characters are immediately engaging and the twisty plot revelations will ensure you remain hooked until the end. Unlike other Nordic noir offerings such as, the overtly glossy yet substance free Headhunters (2011), this film has no deluded heirs or graces and unfolds at its own slow, subtle and gripping pace. This film is a sequel to The Hunters (1996) but there is no continuity as such, and is incredibly enjoyable as a stand-alone murder mystery. Sundvall directs beautifully and with the perfect balance of light and dark. The sweeping landscapes and bright glaring sunshine form a great contrast with the dark themes. Even though, Sundvall demonstrates the natural beauty and openness of the countryside, he also does a great job of creating a sense of isolation, even claustrophobia. There is definitely fear in the forest. The location is utilized to such a degree that it becomes a character in itself. It's impossible to think of this taking place anywhere else. The location is absolutely perfect and reminiscent of the malaise of The Killing and the horror of Twin Peaks. There is seamless progression in the careful layering of personal grievance and procedural plot points. The effect is a gripping narrative flow that is wholly immersing.

Occasional flashbacks reveal very little but add a great deal of substance in their production. As each character is presented, back stories and baggage are gently drip-fed to the audience, adding to the intrigue. The revelation of a bruise, the firing of a bullet and the finding of a pregnancy test induce audible gasps and create great character depth and extra dimensions to the complex plot. Although it begins as a mystery, the finger is generally pointed in a certain direction and once the audience is provided evidence of their killer, there is a huge shift and the film then turns into a thrilling and almost impossible game of cat and mouse. Rolf Lassgard is surprisingly affable as Erik. Although he is presented as a sluggish, seemingly uncaring character, his increasing personal concern with his nephew is a pleasure to watch. He doesn't smile and has very little physicality, so his outbursts come as a genuine surprise. What's admirable about this performance is the burden that he continues to carry around with him. He is so woeful, that the burden almost becomes a physical part of his character and the further he immerses himself in the case, the more free he becomes.

The chemistry between Erik's good cop and Torsten's bad cop is electrifying. Sparks fly as their conflicting moralities clash. In the middle of the two is murder suspect Jari, an unpredictable troublemaker acted with great impressionable conviction by Eero Millonoff. Although initially, there is a mystery surrounding Torsten, it soon becomes evident that there is more to him than meets the eye. Torsten immediately slaps the screen with unhinged menace. His character is written intelligently and acted with immense power. Much to Peter Stormare's credit, he captivates and manipulates every scene and even with a big smile upon his face the bubbling devilish undercurrent is always felt. He has a predatory hold on his family and it later becomes clear that he has groomed the community at large, compelling them into silence and/or ignorance towards his guilt. The supporting cast are equally as admirable as the leads and deliver some astounding performances particularly Annika Nordin's Karin, the confused and abused wife of Torsten and her son Peter, played with touching vulnerability by Kim Tjernstrom. Both deliver heart-breaking performances that ensure the revelations of Tolsten's character will chill the viewer to their very bones.

Even though the conclusion is predictable, the constant churning of emotion and the spine tingling suspense ensure that the journey towards it is thoroughly engrossing and equally enjoyable. The only disappointment is the bizarre melodramatic meltdown of one of the characters at the end of the film. Although it takes two hours of constant thrills to get there the climax appears somewhat rushed, thoughtless and incongruously conventional compared to the rest of the film. However, this is a film that is packed with so much flavour, that one minor defect cannot spoil the overall taste. With astounding turns from the leads, False Trail is everything you want from Nordic noir. Beautifully shot in an aesthetic and atmospheric location, intelligently written and thoroughly engrossing. The gently drip-fed back-story provides a solid spine to the movie, the body of which becomes increasingly gripping and ever more disturbing. False Trail is brimming over with Scandinavian value and it provides perfect thriller-filler for a Sarah Lund shaped void.

Originally published for Subtitled Online January 2013

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