Review: Black's Game (Directed by Oskar Por Axelsson) (Fantasia 2012)

Black's Game (Directed by Oskar Por Axelsson) (Fantasia 2012)
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PLOT: Reykjavik- 1999. On the eve of the millennium, Stebbi (Thor Kristjansson) a university student- arrested in a drunken brawl reacquaints himself with a childhood friend, Toti (Johannes Hauker Johannesson) - a hulking petty crook. Joining Toti’s crew, Stebbi and Toti find themselves drawn into the web of Bruno (Damon Younger), a psychopath with the idea that the three of them can take over Iceland’s drug trade. At first, the plan goes off without a hitch, and their crew is rolling in cash, drugs, and girls- but soon Bruno’s insane desire to push things further and further puts them into a collision course with fate.

REVIEW: “Based on some shit that actually happened”. So says the title crawl accompanying the first of many frenetic montages in BLACK’S GAME. An Icelandic gangsters, guns and girls saga- exec produced by none other than Nicolas Winding Refn, BLACK’S GAME, while not exactly breaking any new ground as far as gangster thrillers go, is nonetheless a pretty awesome, techno- charged underworld tale.

Owing a lot to Refn’s PUSHER trilogy, BLACK’S GAME takes us into Iceland’s heretofore unexamined (at least in films that I’m aware of) drug trade, proving that bloody battles over territory, drugs, and snitches is truly the universal experience shared by dealers worldwide. That said this ain’t no cautionary tale. Sure, it follows the gangster movie rules pretty closely, with the requisite “come up” followed by the inevitable “come down”- but way more time is spent on the rock n’roll, drug fueled nights than the inevitable decline. But- when it goes bad, it goes REALLY bad, to the extent that BLACK’S GAME is probably the only underworld tale I can think of where the good guy ends up getting raped by the bad guy (like Refn’s movies- the violence here is BRUTAL).

Of course, I had a friggin’ blast with BLACK’S GAME- as really, an adrenaline charged gangster pic is always right up my alley, and having the great Nicolas Refn involved is just the icing on the cake. The feature debut of Icelandic helmer Oskar Thor Axelsson, BLACK’S GAME is a pretty slick, confident work- and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hollywood come “a-callin’” if this gets decent distribution in the west. My fellow kids of the nineties will delight in some of the nostalgia on display here, with the gangsters rockin’ out to bands like Prodigy, downloading porn s-l-o-w-l-y on 14.4 modems, and playing Nintendo 64, while talking about “Y2K”.

The cast is great, with star Kristjansson making a strong leading man, giving the film the kind of personable entrée into a world ruled by psychos and hulks that a film like this needs in order not to go off the rails. In support, Johannes Hauker Johannesson as the brutal Toti- is also exceptional, with our introduction to him being as he snorts speed, while naked and blasting death metal in front of his mother. Believe it or not, he’s one of the not so bad guys.

At least, he’s not so bad compared to the evil Bruno, as played by Damon Younger- who’s one of the more intriguing baddies I’ve seen in a while. It’s rare that Hollywood has the guts to portray even the worst baddies as an all-out sadist, and sure enough- there are no shades of gray here, as Younger plays him like the devil incarnate. It all comes together in a bad-ass epilogue that left the crowded Fantasia audience cheering.

I really hope BLACK’S GAME at least gets picked up for VOD, as it’s the kind of movie that could have really big crossover appeal. I had an absolute blast with it, and watching it was probably the best time I’ve had at Fantasia this year.



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