Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Mads Mikkelsen stars in Nicolas Winding Refn's VALHALLA RISING

A minimalist movie sporting maximum violence, VALHALLA RISING, is the latest from Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn (below), who last year gave us the charmingly oddball and also very violent Bronson. The setting here is Europe in the... well, it looked to me like the 12th or 13th or maybe 14th century.  We know it's A.D. because there's some nasty Christian vs Pagan stuff going on.  (Don't expect the intelligence of Agora, however; this is all just a good excuse for various bouts of to-the-death fighting.)

Initially we're treated to some introductory twaddle (you might call it a portentous pronouncement) and then -- yea! -- the first fight.  This looks to be between two unfairly bound slaves to see which man can come out alive. Don't expect the Colosseum, however. This is low-budget stuff: two guys in a dirt circle observed by a few onlookers. Since one of the two is our star, the always dead-on Mads Mikkelsen (below, tattooed and shirtless), we kind of know who the winner will be. Mr. Mikklesen, who played a villain with a bleeding eye in Casino Royale, here plays a hero with one eye scarred shut.  Which matters not a bit.  Lean, muscular, mute and possessed with strong native intelligence, One Eye (as the IMDB cast list calls him) is sumpin' else.

Killing pretty much everyone around him, except a young boy (Maarten Stevenson, below left) who has provided him a bit of sustenance, One Eye and his new pal go on a journey that has them meeting up with some guys who are supposed to be Norseman but sound like they're from Scotland (the language of the film is English, and the actors are, I guess, just using their native tongue).  More fights ensue, the men take to the sea, the wind stops, blame descends upon our poor pair (they're pagan, dontcha know) but then those winds start up again and whoosh, we've landed in what looks very much like pre-Christopher Columbus America. And where is Terrence Malick when you need him?

Valhalla Rising is a film of mammoth physicality but very low intelligence. Whatever you may have thought about Bronson, at least that movie moved.  This one's pace is slow, slower, slowest. In addition to this, Mr Winding Refn is fond of slow-motion effects. Using slo-mo atop slow pacing is simply nuts. Bring a safety pin, undo it periodically, and give yourself a jab to stay awake.

Still, there is Mr. Mikkelsen and is he's a wonder to behold.  In the past couple of years, we've seen him in roles as diverse as those of  the do-gooder in After the Wedding, villain in Casino Royale, troub-
led war hero in Flame and Citron,  his co-title role in Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky, and this little number.  As an angry warrior in the recent Clash of the Titans remake, he alone in the cast of macho males managed to bring some gravitas to the proceedings. ("Clash," by the way, is a much more entertaining movie than most of my compatriots let on: So much fun in fact, that I think I'll have to devote a post to it around the time of its DVD release).

After all this, and the wonderful stuff he's done previously (see Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself or Adam's Apples or Torremolinos 73  for further proof), it's clear that Mad's the man: a go-to guy for just about any role you can think up.  And he's really the only reason to visit Valhalla.  This movie, full of gorgeous visuals (below) that were probably done at 1/100 the budget of most Hollywood sagas, defines "pretentious." It has almost nothing to say, except the most obvious, about any of the subjects it covers -- religion, bonding, fighting, exploration, solitude.  At 93 minutes, it feels like twice that length yet offers enough actual content to fill only half
its running time.

Valhalla Rising, from IFC Films, opens Friday, July 16,  in theaters and via IFC On-Demand.

No comments: