Thanks primarily to its lead trio of first-rate young performers, “9 Millimeter” is an engaging, if uneven, combo of crime actioner, soaper and social drama that delineates the day-to-day struggles of the new immigrant communities in Scandinavia. Director Peter Lindmark swings wildly between over-stylized melodramatics and unfettered, naturalistic perfs. Pic isn’t likely to fire up foreign box office, but if dubbed, it could satisfy action auds abroad and shoot down decent Euro cable coin.
Malik (Paolo Roberto) is a hotshot young safecracker whose gang admires his cool, steely calm and criminal expertise. He’s also an immigrant in a contemporary Sweden that is far removed from the womb-to-tomb socialist security of the past few decades, where unemployment is an increasingly divisive problem and outsiders must compete with Swedes for nonexistent jobs. As played by former professional boxer Roberto, Malik is a forceful, sympathetic figure and a Swedish crime-film cousin to classic Hollywood good/bad boys, from Garfield to Penn.
The Swedish scene’s racial and social fissures drive what is by now an overly familiar story of a good-hearted hood wanting to go straight once he’s met the Right Girl. In “9 Millimeter,” luckily, the right girl, Carmen, is also the right actress, Rebecca Facey, who turns a cliche into an extremely believable young immigrant student studying law and trying to keep her wild younger brother, Rico, (Abou-Bakre Aalam) from falling into a life of strong-arming and drug-running. Aalam, who rounds out the trio at the center of the action, also co-wrote the screenplay, and his character serves as the live wire constantly pushing the Carmen-and-Malik happy ending out of reach.
Film alternates between nail-biting heist sequences and more conventional romantic interludes, while the criminal and immigrant milieus provide an interesting backdrop to the often less than scintillating drama. Biggest drawback is director Lindmark’s unsure handling of the film’s many nightclub interior scenes. Almost as if helmed by another person, virtually all of the scenes dealing with the unsavory club-owner crime boss Jocke (Ivan Mathias-Petersson), who virtually enslaves Malik, are garishly lit, overwritten and ponderously paced. When the film cuts to our trio of leads outside the club, it’s as if a window were opened on a stuffy room. Even if the jarring effect was intentional, it wouldn’t justify the silly lighting or the stiffness of the writing and performances.
Still, there’s a reason why tried and true dramatic elements survive the decades. The plight of Malik and Carmen as they pursue romance and fulfillment remains involving for most of the film’s somewhat padded running time, although pic’s hysterical final act once again subverts the better angels of “9 Millimeter.”
Film’s producers also hit big in Sweden last year with box office champ “The Hunters,” which is set for a Hollywood remake. “9 Millimeter” is probably most significant as a sign, along with the strong Norwegian official selections at Cannes this year, that there’s a new generation of talented, ambitious Scandi filmmakers with international success in their gun sights.