Remade in America as Contraband (#1 at the Box Office last weekend, Jeremy reviewed it here) this is the original Icelandic film that has an interesting back story to it. The star of Reykjavik-Rotterdam is none other than Baltasar Kormakur, director of Contraband. When he starred in Reykjavik-Rotterdam he had already won international acclaim for his taught police thriller Jar City. In this film, Kormakur proves he is a capable, charismatic leading man, and I’m sure the reason it got remade in America is Mark Wahlberg saw it and wanted to play the role, otherwise I’m sure Kormakur could have pulled it off again, although I’m not sure he would have tried to act it in it. Either way, we get two versions, this one is written and directed by Oscar Jonasson, and the second is Contraband, directed by Kormakur.
For all intents and purposes, I see why Wahlberg wanted to play the main character, it’s his usual character type, tough guy with a smart mouth that’s just a little bit smarter than everyone, so he can get away with it. I have yet to see Contraband, but those are Wahlberg’s main attributes in most films. The story is simple, but of course, like with any revisionist genre film, it has complexities that frame the genre as the setting, and then letting the action unfold. The main difference I see between this film and Contraband is this is more of a thriller, with intricate plot beats, even if the plot itself was relatively simple.
When Christopher (Baltasar Kormakur) finds out his stupid brother-in-law Arnor (Jorundur Ragnarsson) has made a mistake dealing with some gangsters he was attempting to smuggle for, he gets pulled back into the smuggler’s game, even after a stint in prison that seriously wounded his relationship with his wife. He manages to get the job he needs on a ship, the ship he was caught on, with the captain everyone thinks turned him in. He gets help from his boss/best friend Steingrimur (Ingvar Eggert Sigurdsson) who he trusts to watch his family.
The drama unfolds as they make a narrow escape getting the alcohol onto the truck, let alone back onto the boat where the suspicious captain is trying to keep a special eye on him. This is where Kormakur’s charisma and acting skill make the movie a joy to watch, the character is just as smart as he should be, and he’s fun to root for. The photography is slick and interesting, even within the confined spaces of the boat. It’s a cat and mouse thriller, and in a few places, it falls into routine heist cinema cliches, but at its best, it’s full of clever nods and a generally light atmosphere without being goofy. The characters are fun to watch, especially Ingvar Eggert Sigurdsson‘s joyously slimy Steingrimur. Sigurdsson plays him with a certain acute manner that makes him sad and lonely, but it’s also what allows him to be a source of entertainment throughout the second half of the film. Anything else would be revealing too much, but the ending is definitely not the strongest part of the film. I felt it was far too “Hollywood” an ending in every way, from the resolution of the smuggling to the family issues Christopher contends with throughout the film, everything worked at least in a fashion that it has before, until the very ending, which hit every cliche note in the book, unfortunately. So while there are some things I hope Kormakur left in Contraband, I wouldn’t mind seeing a few changes as the ending to this one was just slightly too predictable.