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The Films of Baltasar Kormákur

101 Reykjavík

The Sea

A Little Trip to Heaven, Jar City, & White Night Wedding

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Inhale (January 25/11)

Directed by Baltasar Kormákur, Inhale follows a wealthy couple (Dermot Mulroney's Paul and Diane Kruger's Diane) as they're forced to turn to the black market after their attempts at legally finding a lung donor for their dying child prove fruitless - with the film primarily detailing Paul's ongoing (and increasingly perilous) efforts at tracking down a shady Mexican figure who may or may not be able to provide a new lung. It's an inherently compelling premise that initially seems as though it's going to be employed to middling effect, as Kormákur offers up an almost excessively deliberate opening half hour that's compounded by ostentatiously gritty visuals and the disorienting (and, at the outset, confusing) bent of Walter Doty and John Claflin's time-shifting screenplay. The repetitive midsection - which primarily consists of scene after scene of Mulroney's character walking into dangerous situations - does give way to an admittedly engrossing third act, however, with the inclusion of an absolutely jaw-dropping ending effortlessly elevating Inhale to must-see territory. (It's the kind of finale that's sure to provoke arguments and discussions among viewers long after the credits have finished rolling.) There is, as a result, little doubt that Inhale is ultimately a far more resonant piece of work than one might have suspected at the outset, which effectively cements its place as an uneven thriller that benefits substantially from its stunner of a conclusion.

out of

Contraband (February 26/12)

Based on 2008's Reykjavik-Rotterdam, Contraband follows former smuggler Chris Farraday (Mark Wahlberg) as he attempts one last job after his wife's (Kate Beckinsale's Kate) sketchy brother lands in hot water with a volatile criminal (Giovanni Ribisi's Tim Briggs) - with the film subsequently detailing the myriad of problems that inevitably ensue. Filmmaker Baltasar Kormákur, whose Jar City remains one of this new century's more intriguing thrillers, has infused Contraband with a generic, entirely uninvolving feel that immediately proves disastrous, with the aggressively dull atmosphere heightened by both Kormákur's bland visual choices and Aaron Guzikowski's hackneyed, conventional screenplay. It doesn't help, either, that much of the film's midsection follows Farraday and his crew as they run one illicit (yet utterly boring) errand after another, which, not surprisingly, results in a disastrous lack of momentum that prevents the viewer from working up any interest in the central character's increasingly perilous antics. (That Wahlberg delivers a closed-off, distressingly wooden performance certainly doesn't help matters.) The pervasive lack of tension ensures that the movie only grows more and more tedious as it progresses, and it's worth noting, too, that the film's "suspenseful" moments (eg Farraday attempts to clear out of a storage crate before the authorities show up) are simply unable to generate the excitement and energy that Kormákur is obviously striving for. And although there are a few bright spots here and there (eg Ribisi's entertainingly broad performance, an admittedly decent armored-car robbery sequence, etc), Contraband primarily comes off as a needless waste of time that's emblematic of everything that's wrong with the thriller genre.

out of

The Deep (September 1/13)

Based on a true story, The Deep details the chaos that ensues after a fishing boat goes down off the coast of Iceland - with the movie detailing one man's (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson's Gulli) efforts at both surviving the wreck and adjusting to life back at home. Filmmaker Baltasar Kormakur, working from a script cowritten with Jón Atli Jónasson, does a nice job of initially emphasizing the day-to-day lives of the doomed fishermen, with the movie possessing a palpable sense of authenticity that generally does prove impossible to resist. And although Kormakur does push it in terms of buildup, The Deep recovers with a compelling midsection detailing the aforementioned sinking and Gulli's solo exploits in the water - with the character's wishful (and wistful) waterbound yearnings ensuring that the latter stretch packs an unexpected emotional punch. This portion of the film is so strong, in fact, that it can't help but affect the impact of the remainder, with Kormakur's low-key sensibilities, coupled with a curious emphasis on one doctor's efforts at understanding just why Gulli didn't perish, paving the way for a second half that's watchable, to be sure, but rarely engrossing. The Deep is, in the end, a passable true-life tale that's heightened by Kormakur's steady direction and Ólafsson's down-to-earth turn as the protagonist, yet the film is rarely, if ever, as captivating as one might've expected and/or hoped.

out of

2 Guns (September 1/13)

2 Guns follows a pair of criminals (Denzel Washington's Bobby Trench and Mark Wahlberg's Michael Stigman) as they find themselves in a mess of trouble after a routine heist goes awry, with the movie primarily detailing the characters' subsequent efforts at scheming and murdering their way out of the situation. It's clear immediately that 2 Guns benefits substantially from the charismatic work of its two stars, with the palpable chemistry between the actors going a long way towards initially (and instantly) capturing the viewer's interest. The fun atmosphere, which is perpetuated by the protagonists' jocular banter, is diminished to increasingly demonstrable effect, however, as scripter Blake Masters offers up an incongruously convoluted storyline that grows more and more problematic as time progresses. It does, as a result, become exceedingly difficult to work up any interest in or enthusiasm for Bobby and Michael's exploits, with the continuing inclusion and emphasis on needless complications lending the narrative a disappointingly meandering feel. Having said that, 2 Guns benefits substantially from the efforts of its eclectic supporting cast - with Bill Paxton's scene-stealing turn as a sadistic lawman standing as an obvious highlight in the proceedings. There inevitably reaches a point, then, at which the movie loses its easygoing vibe and becomes a chore to watch, with the most obvious consequence of this the almost interminable final stretch (ie the movie just seems to go on and on and on) - which ultimately confirms 2 Guns' place as a promising buddy comedy that fizzles out to a hopelessly depressing degree.

out of

Everest (May 13/17)

Based on true events, Everest follows several men and women as they endeavor to make it to the top of the titular mountain - with the perilous trek, not surprisingly, fraught with complications and difficulties. Hit-and-miss filmmaker Baltasar Kormákur delivers a strong opening stretch that effectively sets up the scenario and various characters, with, in terms of the latter, the movie benefiting substantially from a strong cast that includes Jason Clarke, John Hawkes, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Josh Brolin. And while the movie's first half is solidly entertaining, Kormákur is never quite able to wring the expected suspense and tension out of several key sequences - with the only real exception to this a fairly engrossing scene involving a cross over a chasm on a rickety ladder. It's clear, as well, that the film's erratically-paced midsection does it absolutely no favors, as it suffers from a fairly long stretch detailing a storm that threatens the climbers - with the impact of this section drained substantially by one's fruitless efforts at discerning just what's going on. Still, Everest does manage to pack an unexpectedly emotional punch during a handful of key portions of the narrative - which ultimately does compensate for the final product's less-than-polished bent. (It's hard to deny that the movie could've used a few more passes through the editing bay, with, especially, the needlessly action-packed climax ensuring that the whole thing ends on a lackluster note.)

out of

The Oath (June 1/18)

The Oath casts Baltasar Kormákur as Finnur, a successful surgeon who becomes increasingly concerned about his daughter's (Hera Hilmar's Anna) relationship with an older and decidedly sketchy guy (Gísli Örn Garðarsson's Óttar) - with the narrative detailing the rather drastic action Finnur eventually takes to purge the man from his family's life. Filmmaker Kormákur, working from a script cowritten with Ólafur Egilsson, delivers a slow-moving narrative that's perhaps just a little too familiar for its own good, as The Oath, in its early stages, is focused on the less-than-fresh problems stemming from Anna's drug problems (ie it feels like a pretty typical junkie drama) - although such concerns eventually do become moot as the movie shifts gears to a rather radical extent. It goes without saying, then, that The Oath is at its best when focused on Finnur's progressively frantic efforts at containing the fallout from his aforementioned drastic action, with the movie's engaging atmosphere heightened by an ongoing inclusion of palpably searing sequences (eg Finnur explains the brutal reality of Óttar's situation without mincing words). And while the picture's climactic stretch unfolds precisely as one might've anticipated, The Oath has nevertheless long-since established itself as a better-than-average thriller that benefits from its strong performances and Kormákur's solid direction.

out of

Adrift: A True Story (June 1/18)

Inspired by actual events, Adrift: A True Story follows Shailene Woodley's Tami and Sam Claflin's Richard as they agree to sail a yacht from Asia to North America - with a random (and deadly) storm leaving the ship incapacitated and forcing the couple to brave the elements along the way to safety. Director Baltasar Kormákur does an admittedly fantastic job of immediately capturing the viewer's interest, as Adrift: A True Story kicks off with a striking in media res opening detailing Tami's immediate, post-storm efforts at finding Claflin's seemingly lost-at-sea figure. It's an engrossing sequence that's ultimately not terribly indicative of what subsequently follows, as Kormákur, along with scripters Aaron Kandell, Jordan Kandell, and David Branson Smith, offers up a slow-moving and awfully familiar tale of survival rife with competent yet unimpressive elements - with the somewhat hands-off feel compounded by one's ongoing difficulties in wholeheartedly sympathizing with either of the central characters (ie both Woodley and Claflin are good here, certainly, but neither actor delivers what could reasonably be considered a dynamic or charismatic performance). And although the narrative does contain a small handful of overtly engrossing interludes (eg Tami attempts to wave down a passing freighter), Adrift: A True Story is, by and large, unable to carve out a place for itself within a subgenre brimming with similarly-themed fare - although, to be fair, the film's final stretch manages to pack a far more pronounced emotional impact than one might've anticipated.

out of

© David Nusair