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1 review, 2 user ratings

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Black's Game
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by Jay Seaver

"A likable drug pusher movie, which isn't quite a contradiction."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2012 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Is it weird to call "Black's Game" kind of fun? It is, after all, a movie about gangs and the cocaine trade that doesn't exactly go the hip black comedy route or make its characters cool through their disdain for authority or hyper-capability. But there it is, grabbing my interest and making its characters worth a little affection despite otherwise being a fairly typical crime movie.

Not that "psycho" Stebbi (Thor Kristjansson) starts out as a gangster, though he does get in some legal trouble. An encounter with old acquaintance Toti (Johannes Hakur Johannesson) yields the promise of a great lawyer if Stebbi will retrieve something hidden from a crime scene. When Stebbi does so even after having to deal with a thug after the same loot, Toti brings him into the inner circle with partner Sævar K (Egill Einarsson) and girlfriend Dagny (Maria Birta). They're joining forces with Bruno (Damon Younger) to take over Rekjavik's cocaine business, which in 1999 is about to explode.

Black's Game is a slick piece of work, with screenwriter/director Oskar Thor Axelsson seemingly taking as many cues from executive producer Nicolas Winding Refn as original novelist Stefan Mani. The cast is young and good-looking without being pretty-boy criminals; the soundtrack contains a fair amount of electronica, and it uses a combination of on-screen titles, narration, and quick-cutting to move the story forward very quickly, though it still manages to avoid seeming rushed.

It is the sort of movie that fans of the gangster genre and native Icelanders might get a little more out of than the rest of us; there's a fair amount of exposition and information specific to the time and place. Axelsson does a good job of keeping the story straight, but there are, inevitably, a lot of characters with more or less the same motivations and similar positions. Something that might have been interesting, the difference between Old Crime and New Crime, could use a little more focus, especially since the bits where the filmmakers show Stebbi and company going about their illegal business are fairly enjoyable as they show the audience how things work. Details count.

Though I mention some of the secondary characters running together, the guys who are front and center impress. Thor Kristjansson remains believable throughout as a guy who can believably straddle the legitimate and criminal worlds; his Stebbi is a slacker with a hibernating vicious streak, and as he sinks further into the crime business, it actually becomes oddly encouraging to see him succeed at something. Part of that comes from watching him with Maria Birta's Dagny; there's something kind of sweet about this particular pretty addict the gang uses to get their product into high-end parties and the affection they seem to have in the middle of all the cruelty. Meanwhile, Johannes Haukur Johannesson brings a lot of charismatic energy to Stebbi's old friend trying to move up in the world, while Damon Younger is a welcome jolt toward the end as the guy who recognizes that, contrary to the usual gang movie platitudes, this isn't just business, but crime.

"Black's Game" is unusually entertaining; its central characters remain human for much longer than is typical for the genre. As gang movies go, it probably won't take its place among the great, indispensable epics, and maybe trades some depth for being so approachable, but it's not nearly the sort of grind that this sort of movie can be.

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originally posted: 09/03/12 07:33:11
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2012 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 48th Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 48th Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/06/12 Albert Pretty good. 4 stars
9/05/12 Samuel you got to do better than that! 5 stars
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  DVD: 12-Feb-2013



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