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Tommy (2014)
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by Jay Seaver

"Not just the wife."
4 stars

SCREENED AT FANTASTIC FEST 2014: "Tommy" starts out looking like it might be a certain type of movie - you know, the one where the underestimated woman at the center is eventually revealed to always be three steps ahead of everyone around her (or if not quite that far ahead, still the smartest person in the room) - with a certain type of twist - seeing it all from her perspective. I'd like to see that movie someday, but this one is more about a gamble, which some may not find quite so satisfying. I dig it, though.

The woman in question is Estelle (Moa Gammel), just returned to Stockholm after fleeing the country with her husband Tommy and daughter Isabel (Inez Buckner) after a heist gone wrong left a couple of cops dead and Tommy holding the bag a year ago. Tommy, she says, will soon follow, and he wants his share when he does, something which naturally puts the other members of the crew on edge - Bobby (Ola Rapace) is doing quite well for himself and dating Estelle's sister Blanca (Lykke Li Zachrisson), Matte (Alexej Manvelov) is trying to go straight, and Estelle's godfather Steve (Johan Rabaeus) says he'll help but tends to make phone calls after she leaves.

Moa Gammel has a neat trick to accomplish in presenting Estelle as someone who could be that woman, and by the same token is someone the characters she encounters is going to underestimate. After all, she doesn't come from a family of criminal masterminds, but one of molls (her mother seemed to go for crooks too). Because the movie is necessarily keeping the details of Estelle's and/or Tommy's plans close to the vest, she doesn't get to give a great underdog performance or show Estelle as always calculating, but that's okay; there's enough going on with her outside of the step-by-step process of recovering Tommy's money to keep things interesting. The scenes with her family are especially good; it's always clear from looking at Gammel that Estelle has opinions about Blanca getting involved in the same sort of life she and their mother did, string enough the subject doesn't even have to be raised in connection with Isabel. She tension and desperation (when genuine or a put-on) well, and she does a nice job of building a relationship with the absent Tommy.

Director Tarik Saleh does a good job of building the tension around Estelle's gambit, making the most of scenes where everyone is feeling each other out before they really start to act, and even then sequences will stay ratcheted up for a while or build to bigger climaxes in stages. He and his crew alto make good use of their wintry Swedish setting, with the chill making some scenes feel a bit more dangerous, and the viewer gets just enough of a glimpse of Sri Lanka to get the feeling that Estelle is stepping back into a different, more threatening life.

I do think that the plot could have been streamlined a bit; there are a lot of characters running around Anton Hagwall's screenplay that may be difficult to keep straight, what with the people involved in the initial armored car robbery and the crime itself being laid out very quickly at the start. Hagwall and Saleh can also be a little stingy with backstory; even the things that happened in Estelle's absence terms to be presented in terms of just what she would need to know to catch up, as opposed to someone in the audience starting from scratch. That's the details, though, and the important thing is how the story manages a good balance of mysterious and straightforward, keeping the central question up in the air without making the finale live or die on it.

It's a nifty little crime story, even if it's not quite the one suggested. Estelle's the sort of character most often seen crying over her slain boyfriend in these movies, and it's a lot of fun to see her being the one making things happen instead.

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originally posted: 11/25/14 15:30:56
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Directed by
  Tarik Saleh

Written by
  Anton Hagwall

  Ola Rapace
  Moa Gammel
  Lykke Li
  Alexej Manvelov
  Johan Rabaeus
  Inez Buckner

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