Darkland is a Danish crime thriller that was almost selected as the country’s foreign film entry into the Academy Awards. As the title would suggest, Darkland is a gloomy film, the lighting almost always low and the outside shots overcast. Dar Salim stars as Zaid, a second generation Iraqi immigrant to Denmark, and respected surgeon with a pregnant wife. Zaid’s brother Yasin is a lowlife and a criminal, constantly using drugs and getting in deep with the criminals he works for. After coming to Zaid to beg for money again, Zaid angrily sends Yasin away. The next day Zaid is told that Yasin was murdered. This begins the film as Zaid channels his remorse into unstoppable vengeance. He trains as a boxer and enters the shady criminal underground, filled with red lit underground sex clubs, gritty drug dens, shady dockworkers, and clandestine meeting places.
I would like to add the disclaimer that I am always biased in favor of dark and gritty crime dramas, foreign or otherwise. Darkland is absolutely visually stunning, if you like the sort of macabre aesthetic of urban decay. The lighting is impeccable and adds a feeling of dread but also a permeating sense of depression, connecting perhaps with Zaid’s mindset. He shows little emotion besides steely determination. It was this that kept me from fully engaging with him.
By all means, Darkland is a good film, especially on a technical level. And yet there seems to be so much wasted space. Scenes go on for too long, drawing themselves out, presumably to set a mood, only to arrive at the exposition after too long a wait. The characters themselves are all a bit too one dimensional. All of the criminals are either psychopathic bosses, or addicts, willing to do whatever for a fix. The script itself is not terribly imaginative. Zaid’s young wife serves only the purpose of interacting with him occasionally to bring some sort of depth to his backstory, and of course eventually be used as something to threaten Zaid with. The acting all around is pretty good although Zaid is so pulled back and emotionless he hardly has a character. Ali Sivandi does a good job as one of the criminal bosses, Semion, and if this does not launch his career he can surely fall back on being a Channing Tatum impersonator, the resemblance is uncanny.
Darkland is a slow and pensive film, sometimes to its own detriment. Americans may be used to something that pumps the gas a little more but fans of foreign and meticulous movies may find this more engaging. The story is good, if not terribly imaginative, but the characters and visuals deliver enough to make this worth seeing.