Review: ‘Wildside’

Oskar (Ossy)

Oskar (Ossy)

Mikkelsen ….. Nikolaj Coster Waldau

Jimmy ….. Mads Mikkelsen

Jona ….. Nukaka

Anna ….. Palina Jonsdottir

Thorbjorn ….. Saevar Orn

Jona’s Grandfather ….. Jon Sigurbjornsson

Stefan ….. Egil Olafsson

Sigurdsveinn ….. Finnur Johansson

With: Egill Olafson.

(Danish, Icelandic and English dialogue)

Wildside” is a solidly crafted thriller with links to classic film noir, though the bleakly beautiful Icelandic settings invest this tale of friendship and betrayal with a distinct ambience. There’s strong material here for Eurotube programmers, and a vid shelf life is also indicated. If the film is widely seen, there could be an international future in store for its talented lead actor and co-screenwriter, Nikolaj Coster Waldau, a charismatic Danish thesp who speaks barely accented English in a few scenes.

Waldau plays Ossy, an unwelcome visitor from out of the past who arrives, wearing trendy clothes and a wicked smile, to destroy the comfortable suburban family life of his former buddy Jimmy (Mads Mikkelsen).

Copenhagen-born Ossy and Jimmy, friends since they were 18 and Jimmy accidentally killed a man who was beating up his pal, fled Denmark and lived the high life in the Far East. In Thailand they were involved in drug smuggling until Jimmy called it quits. He left his friend to start a new life in remote Reykjavik with his Icelandic wife, Anna (Palina Jonsdottir). But Jimmy’s peaceful suburban life with Anna and their young son changes when Ossy turns up out of the blue, eager to resume the partnership and seeking the reformed Jimmy’s help to pull off a drug deal.

This is the basis of classic drama, with Jimmy torn between loyalty to his old friend and the desperate need to stay on the straight and narrow path. Director Simon Staho, who scripted in collaboration with his lead actor, extracts maximum suspense from Jimmy’s agonizing dilemma, but is careful not to make the intrusive Ossy a stereotypical villain.

Latter proves to have a tender side when, after a nearly fatal beating at the hands of a smooth drug czar (Egill Olafson) he’s cared for by Jona, a young woman who lives in a remote cottage with her elderly grandfather. The actress playing Jona is billed in the film’s credits as simply Nakuka, and in the pressbook as Nukaka Motzfeldt; by either name, she’s a luminous presence. With Jona, Ossy opens up and talks about his past, revealing in the process some of the demons that are destroying him.

Though Staho and Waldau have difficulty making the film’s final act convincing, for the most part “Wildside” is intelligent and suspenseful fare. Staho demonstrates a firm directorial hand, and pic rates highly in every technical department.

Mikkelsen, who made his mark in the Danish hit “Pusher” a couple of years ago , expertly conveys the moral dilemma and agonizing choices faced by Jimmy. But he’s overshadowed by the charismatic Waldau (lead actor in the 1994 “Nightwatch”), whose superficially charming but volatile and destructive Ossy is a spectacularly impressive characterization.




A Balboa 2 (Copenhagen)/Icelandic Film Corp. (Reykjavik) co-production, with support from the Danish Film Institute. (International sales: Nordisk Film, Copenhagen.) Produced by Henrik Danstrup. Executive producers, Peter Aalbaek Jensen, Fridrik Thor Fridriksson. Directed by Simon Staho. Screenplay, Nikolaj Coster Waldau, Staho. Camera (color), Jon Karl Helgason; editor, Anne Osterud; music, Hilmar Orn Hilmarson; production designer, Arni Pall Johansson; costume designers, Dora Einars Bergmann, Ragna Frodadottir; sound (Dolby), Kristian Eidnes Andersen; assistant director, Fahad Falur Jabali; casting, Maria Sigurdadottir. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (market), May 18, 1998. (Also in San Sebastian Film Festival --- Open Zone.) Running time: 95 MIN.
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