Sunday, July 29, 2012

Fantasia ’12: Black’s Game

Iceland enforced the prohibition of alcohol from 1915 until 1935, maintaining the ban on strong spirits until 1989.  Can such a country have an appetite for cocaine?  Sure, especially if it is 100% pure Peruvian.  As the millennium approaches, a young degenerate witnesses the Icelandic drug trade’s changing of the guard and “misplaces” a shipment of said goods in Óskar Thór Axelsson’s Black’s Game (trailer here), which screens during the 2012 Fantasia Festival.

Ironically, “Stebbi Psycho” is considerably less volatile than his colleagues.  Nonetheless, he is the one with an assault charge hanging over his head.  Just after his release on bail Stebbi crosses paths with old childhood chum Tótí.  Lucky or not, it will be a fateful encounter.  Soon thereafter, Stebbi joins Tótí’s narco-gang, getting their high-price defense attorney on his case, as part of the bargain.  Things get a bit violent when Tótí decides to take down the old school Studio 54-ish rival outfit.  However, when the seriously deranged Brúnó takes over their operations, the blood and mayhem really ramp up a notch.

Game proves what our mothers always used to tell us: sleepless four-day coke benders are not conducive to good business decisions.  Indeed, Stebbi makes some awfully bad choices, but he is not alone.  To be fair, it is not just the drugs clouding his judgment.  He is also distracted by Dagný, his blonde cokehead party-girl colleague in the drug-trafficking network (that happens to be modeled after Herbal-Life).

As is often the case in such films, our out-of-his-league protagonist is the least interesting character in Game.  In contrast, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhanesson is charismatically ferocious as Tótí (looking somewhat like a young, pumped-up Tor Johnson, who can act), but he is not the real villain here.  That would be the appropriately Mephistophelean Damon Younger oozing slimy evil as the serpentine Brúnó.  While Maria B. Bjarnardottir is an intriguing screen presence as Dagný, Axelsson makes it intentionally hard to draw a bead on her character, obviously dropping hints about her motivations, but leaving them all naggingly unresolved.

While Game casts human nature in rather brutish and pessimistic terms, it should not dissuade anyone from visiting Iceland.  In fact, the surrounding landscape is quite striking (in a Nordic kind of way) and the nightlife looks like its jumping.  Axelsson certainly capitalizes on both.  While it periodically tries too hard to shock, Game’s energy and attitude are impressive.  Recommended for those who enjoy pitch black, sharp-edged crime bacchanals, Black’s Game screens Wednesday (8/1) as part of this year’s Fantasia in Montreal.