Tag: mads mikkelsen

Casino Royale

Casino Royale (2006)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Martin Campbell’s “Casino Royale” consists of only three major action sequences and the rest is a high-stakes poker game. Yet it remains to be one of the most entertaining James Bond pictures—certainly the most emotionally complex because it humanizes our hero. One of the reasons is its confidence and skill and slowing down overt elements, at times to the point of minimization, that typically define a 007 movie.

It is willing to regale us with words—not just fun, cheeky repartees but actual conversations between highly intelligent and insightful characters, specifically between Bond (Daniel Craig), a newly minted 00 agent for the British MI6, and Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), an agent assigned to finance our protagonist during the titular poker game in Montenegro. At times listening to their dialogue is like being tickled with a feather. There is electric chemistry and a sensuality that emanates from the two. They can simply sit across a table while trading knowing looks and the silent exchange makes us smile. The longer this goes on, the more is revealed between James and Vesper while keeping us mindful of the stakes—why it is paramount that Bond must succeed in preventing a terrorist fancier named Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) from winning over a hundred million dollars. The screenplay by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Paul Haggis is alive and so we are receptive to every minute plot and character development.

Most sign up for a Bond picture due to the promise of impressive action pieces. It is without question the film delivers. The first big action scene takes place in Madagascar. It requires Bond to chase a bomb maker who is not only fast but also incredibly athletic. Just when you think the man is cornered, he finds a way to slither through the cracks. And so we observe Bond’s resourcefulness in trying to make up the distance. A surprise is thrown onto our laps every ten seconds. Comic moments are thrown in there for good measure. It becomes so ludicrous that Bond and the person of interest are climbing and jumping off cranes like spiders. The level of energy builds and builds until no longer tenable. Fight choreography grows more complex. But also notice the beauty of these sequences, especially when at high elevations. A person with acrophobia is likely to experience a gut reaction.

This is only one action scene. There are two others that are equally terrific to sit through. But they are entertaining in different ways. Notice, too, the type of chases do not repeat. And the immediate stakes are always different. Even these adrenaline-fueled scenes tend to reveal something new about our main character. This is the strength of “Casino Royale.” We are seemingly presented one thing, but so many gears are working together that the experience is informative and enthralling. The punchline is never having to shoot a gun. It is about the mission; success or failure is a given and so repercussions are treated with real gusto.

It would be remiss of me not to compliment the wonderful performances. Craig possesses a knack for being cold-hearted one minute and the next there is a vulnerability to him that you wish to get to know. That’s critical because I believe that is one of the traits that made Vesper curious about the assassin. Green, too, is exquisite. Every line uttered is like silk caressing the eardrums. There is a knowing in those eyes that makes you want to lean in and study her. And speaking of eyes, Mikkelsen imbues an enigma to a villain with a simple goal: survival. When sitting at that poker table, we feel that desperation to win. Because if he loses, he dies—fitting for someone who brazenly uses his clients’ money to gamble with stocks.


Arctic (2018)
★★★ / ★★★★

With less than three pages of dialogue, “Arctic” delivers entertainment on the gut level. Many of us have encountered this plot before: a plane crashes on the icy mountains and the protagonist struggles to survive. However, what separates this film from its less impressive contemporaries is a lack of ostentatious display. We are not shown the plane crash that sets the story in motion. No breaking out of unconsciousness and the confusion that results afterwards. There is not even one subtitle that informs the audience how long it has been since the crash. We are simply and quietly encouraged to make assumptions based on the numerous details around the site.

Mads Mikkelsen is perfect in role a like this. He has the gift of being able to take one emotion and change it completely within two to three seconds using only his eyes. Notice the close-up when he sees a helicopter and it appears that those inside have noticed his need for rescue—just as quickly, hope turns into despair. But he excels not only when he looks into the distance. Early scenes involve his character, Overgård, looking, studying, pondering over the objects in his hands, whether it be a fish flopping about, a pile of rocks, a map. We do not need dialogue because his entire being—although silent—communicates clearly and with purpose every step of the way.

It assumes that the audience is intelligent. A great example is when the camera shows a map. We know the location of Overgård’s camp site because it is circled with a black marker. However, everything else around it is in black and white; there are various depictions of height due to hills and mountain ranges. Marked, too, is a path from the crash site to another familiar location. There is a legend with shapes and names next to each one. It is likely that those with a limited understanding of how a seemingly simple map works are likely to be lost or confused.

The writing by Joe Penna and Ryan Morrison, the former directing the film, is patient. It does not wish for the audience’s minds to go on autopilot—so unlike adventure movies these days. The map is shown at least ten times—and yet not once does it comes across as repetitive. The more we look at it, the more understanding we have of it. With every note that Overgård makes on that map, we gain an understanding not only of his path or his plans, we begin to understand how the map works in general. On top of this, we gain an appreciation of how the protagonist thinks and the strength of his fighting spirit. Eventually, the map is opened and we do not only look at the places he is labeling. We become confident of our ability to read this map and so we search for alternate routes should the plan fail to go as as expected. (It is a survival film. Of course it won’t.)

“Arctic” is offers numerous small surprises should one is willing to look closely and carefully. I wished that the score were less prominent at times or had been removed altogether because silence tends to amplify the sense of isolation. Note the instances when Overgård suspects he may not be alone in a place he thought was safe. Silence underscores the sound made not by him. Still, the work offers a riveting experience, one that we want to cling onto until the very last shot.

Flame & Citron

Flame & Citron (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★

Bent Faurschou-Hviid (Thure Lindhardt) and Jørgen Haagen Schmith (Mads Mikkelsen), known as Flame and Citron, join the Holger Danske resistance group during the Nazi takeover of Copenhagen. Under the command of Aksel Winther (Peter Mygind), a police solicitor, who claims to have connections with the British Intelligence, Flame and Citron carry out assassinations of both important Nazi officials and those believed to be working for them. Although the tasks appear to be straightforward and the duo are good at what they do, Bent meeting a woman named Ketty Selmer (Stine Stengade) becomes a catalyst for distractions and doubts toward their superiors.

Directed by Ole Christian Madsen, “Flammen & Citronen” traverses the very fine line between the Nazi occupation and the romanticizing of a dark time in history. It is executed with elegance and high level of watchability which creates a highly compelling experience.

Part of the anticipation is reflected by the events that occur on screen. As someone who does not know much about the real people from which the protagonists are based upon, I wondered if or when they would fall into the booby traps of bureaucracies within their group as well as the inner turmoil they grapple with as the lines between right and wrong in connection to the killings they commit begin to blur. The other part is whether the picture will slip toward inappropriateness by idealizing or diminishing the horrors of World War II through beautiful images, like the fine details of someone’s clothing or how smoke from a cigarette dances around the unsaid.

Despite a bright cinematography, the film simmers with paranoia. The presence of the Gestapo is a threat that looms with the scenes set outdoors. Bent being on the Most Wanted list by the Nazis, he does not exactly blend in with his red hair. We get the feeling that a well-informed member of the party might go up to him at any time, start asking the right questions, and it will all be over. Indoors is not a place of comfort either. Although the resistance has secret meetings, there is always a possibility that there is a traitor in their midst. Suspicions are amplified when Bent goes up to Ketty, introduces himself under a pseudonym, but she just happens to know his real name.

The casting proves paramount if we are to believe the hard and soft sides of Bent and Jørgen. Lindhardt and Mikkelsen have the right look. Observing their physical statures and ability to cast piercing glares at a moment’s notice, it is easy to believe that their characters are very intelligent and can kill on command. I liked that the director provides the necessary close-ups prior to an execution because the technique communicates that duo are not machines. They are people who must set aside the black-and-white definitions of right and wrong temporarily and perform an action for the benefit of their country as well as their personal beliefs about the Nazis and the war.

On the other hand, the actors are equally capable of playing the opposite side of the spectrum in terms of delivering emotions in order to make their characters more human. Of particular importance is the subplot involving Jørgen’s feelings of shame, frustration, and anger for not being able to provide for his wife and daughter. These same feelings complement his attitudes toward the nature of what he does for the cause. He finds being there for his family and fighting for his country rewarding, but the two almost have a parasitic relationship.

With its level of work, “Flame and Citron,” written by Lars Andersen and Ole Christian Madsen, might have had more impact if it had been a six- to eight-hour miniseries. It feels like it has plenty more stories to tell because each new character that graces the screen offers a specific perspective. In the attempt to get them all into its limited two-hour mark, details are introduced and taken out just as quickly which breed slight confusion. Despite this shortcoming, however, the material remains riveting.

The Hunt

The Hunt (2012)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Still reeling from divorce, Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen), a former teacher, moved back to the small town he grew up in and has found a job as a kindergarten aide. All is relatively well considering his situation: there is a possibility that Lucas’ son (Lasse Fogelstrøm) might eventually come to live with him and there is a fellow aide (Alexandra Rapaport) who wants to get to know him outside of work. However, when one of the students, Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), tells the lead staff that—essentially—she has been sexually molested by Lucas, the close-knit community turns against the man they thought they knew and loved.

If this film had been a lesser screenplay, the story would have revolved around the issue of whether or not the main character had touched the little girl. By providing us enough evidence that Lucas is likely to be innocent, the material has more time to focus on a more important issue: the way a community responds to an accusation and how word-of-mouth twists, bends, and distorts reality. “Jagten,” written by Tobias Lindholm and Thomas Vinterberg, is fascinating because it is about real people responding to a real issue.

I was able to relate to the film on several levels because I have worked with children. Prior to starting the job, the city ensures that one is aware of the dangers of working with minors, how one should respond if a child talks about certain transgressions, and what should be done if a situation does occur. Fact: Minors can initiate inappropriate behavior. Pages of packets are handed out to be read and signed. Does this mean one is ready for the responsibility just because the paperwork has been put away? This is why I was fascinated with one particular supporting character, Grethe (Susse Wold), the lead staff in the facility.

I admired how the material is willing to show people being flawed. It is easy to blame Grethe for handling the situation poorly. After all, isn’t she supposed to be a professional? But dealing with a sensitive situation—attempting to protect the children but at the same time trying not to judge her co-worker without enough evidence or time to think things through—it is tougher than it looks. It is without a doubt that her weak leadership makes everything that much worse for Lucas, but I think the character is very relevant in that a lot of people do succumb to the panic and tough responsibilities when things get rough. It is not only Grethe who makes terrible miscalculations.

To cast Mikkelsen in the role is a smart decision. Collectively, his face, stance, and presence oozes villainy. Though there is no evidence of child molestation, sometimes I wondered, “But what if he really did it?” Here, we empathize with the character. Mikkelsen does not reduce Lucas into a wilting thing when the community tries to get rid of him. He summons an increasing silent rage, mixed with the right amount of disappointment and sadness, which culminates in two scenes: inside a supermarket and a church.

It takes an interesting detour. At some point, Lucas’ son, Marcus, drops by for a visit. He gets to experience and understand what his father deals with on an every day basis: the “sin” of the father is bore by the son. I liked how the father-son relationship is depicted. Although there are not many scenes that show just the two of them together, they make an impact. We get a feeling that they do love one another. When the other is hurt, the other bears some of the pain—sometimes it is even amplified.

Directed by Thomas Vinterberg, “The Hunt” is a very human story but the title may not suggest that—at least at first glance. It implies that the hunt is an animal to be shot, cooked, and shared. It is the perfect title because once the accusation is out there, Lucas is no longer a man in the eyes of the community. To them, he has become an animal—a predator—and animals are treated as less than.

After the Wedding

After the Wedding (2006)
★★★★ / ★★★★

There’s not a lot of movies out there than can me make flat-out cry and I’m happy to say that this film took my tear ducts by surprise. Written and directed by Susanne Bier, “Efter brylluppet” or “After the Wedding,” stars Mads Mikkelsen (who I couldn’t believe was the villain in “Casino Royale”) as a Danish man who has an admirable passion to provide a better life for poor children (often orphans) in India. He one day gets an invitation from a businessman (Rolf Lassgård) to visit Denmark in order to discuss a possible multimillion donation that can immensely help the children from India. However, a business deal with a lot of strings attached eventually becomes a story of rediscovered connections, especially when the lead character lays his eyes on the businessman’s wife (Sidse Babett Knudsen). Just when I thought this picture was going to go one way, it veered into a different direction while still keeping that organic tone that made it feel like it could happen in real life. While it might have been melodramatic at times, I thought it worked because the story was about the characters and how they collided but at the same time challenged by their own set of beliefs when faced with certain situations. It’s difficult to not give things away but it’s crucial because I didn’t know much about this film coming into it. When I realized how great it was with how one thing led to another (kind of like a domino effect), not only did I think the writing was well done, I also felt the director’s passion in her work. As for the film’s acting, I thought it was simply superb. I was impressed with how the actors communicated with their eyes during the silent moments and the subtleties in their words when they say one thing but really mean another. Even though the words spoken were (most of the time) in a foreign language, I thought the emotions portrayed transcended language barriers. The emotions I felt throughout this film were so real and it really made think about my relationship with the close people in my life and how I should value them more. I highly recommend this movie especially to people who are looking for an effective dramatic work. This was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film back in 2006 and I think it’s more than deserving. The whole experience was quite moving.