*. I’m not sure why I pulled this one off the DVD shelf at the library but I’m glad I did. The box cover wasn’t particularly catchy, consisting mainly of a big picture of Mads Mikkelsen’s face, complete with a gracefully silvered beard. But behind him you see a trio of motorbikes tearing away from a giant fireball explosion in a road cutting through some hilly country, and this turned out to be egregious false advertising. The only explosion is the one on the subway that gets the story rolling and the only motorbike we see is the one being driven by the hapless boyfriend of Mikkelsen’s daughter. In other words, nothing remotely like what’s show on the box cover is in the movie. There aren’t even any hills. Just some flat cornfields once we get out of the city.
*. Another thing that there was no evidence for on the box is that this is a Danish production. This didn’t bug me because I watch movies with subtitles on even if they’re in English, and I think the fact that the cast was speaking their native language probably improved their performances. But it’s another way that picking up the DVD turned out to be a pleasant surprise. At least for the movie itself. The DVD is a bare-boned production. No extras, and indeed not even an option for scene selection. They still release movies on DVD without having a scene selection option? Yes, they do.
*. But getting to the movie, I’m happy to report that the news is good. I was expecting to see Mads Mikkelsen going full Liam Neeson. He’s a tough military man on duty in some war-torn desert land who comes home when his wife is blown up in an explosion on a subway train that may have been an accident but which a data scientist (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) thinks was a targeted assassination. The scientist and a pair of similarly geeky buddies point Mikkelsen in the direction of a criminal gang that Mad Mikks proceeds to exact vengeance upon. Somebody is going to pay! That’s the tag line on the DVD box.
*. So far, so shopworn. But writer-director Anders Thomas Jensen, a veteran of this brand of action-comedy in his native land, has crafted a film that’s touching and charming and smart, without overdoing any of these elements. I mentioned how working in Danish might have helped with the performances, because the cast here are great. This is a comfort zone with Jensen, as he’s worked quite a bit with Mikkelsen and Kaas before. There’s not a ton of action, but it’s used as punctuation nicely and Mikkelsen doesn’t sugarcoat his role as the violent patriarch. He really does seem like a psychopath. The Lone Gunmen are stock types as well, but given enough individuality and weirdness to be memorable.
*. The plot that has MM, yes, defending his daughter from the evil gangsters (I told you about going full Liam Neeson) also has an interesting motif about calculating probabilities and the laws of causation that doesn’t add up to much but does play nicely in the background. The humour isn’t laugh-out-loud funny but has the sweet ironic vibe of ugly Christmas sweaters. Throw in a happy ending and my least-favourite Christmas carol is nearly redeemed.
*. The bottom line is that even though this is bog-standard plot, everyone involved is in good form and they play well together. It gave me the same sort of feeling as In Order of Disappearance, but with a lighter touch. Why such simple films are coming over as imports and finding an audience is hard to explain, as they don’t do anything bold or new but are just well-turned-out entertainments. It’s not a formula that Hollywood has lost. In fact, they may be too stuck in a rut of conventional formulas. What’s missing is the spirit, Christmas or otherwise.