Susanne Bier’s follow-up to Open Hearts is wonderfully acted but predictably plotted by Anders Thomas Jensen, the eccentric voice behind Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself and The Green Butchers. After serving time for bank robbery and assault, Jannik (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) is picked up outside the jailhouse gates by his brother Michael (Ulrich Thomsen), who departs for Afghanistan and is believed dead after a helicopter explosion. While Michael fends for his life inside an Afghan village, Jannik puts the moves on his brother’s wife Sarah (Connie Nielsen), no longer “the middle-class bitch” he thought she was. For Bier and Jensen, the war in Afghanistan and Michael’s participation in it isn’t up for political or philosophical debate—it’s simply an excuse to shock Michael’s complacent system and give the patriarch of the family an excuse to rag on the black sheep played by Lie Kaas. The filmmakers chart how Jannik’s return to family’s good graces runs parallel to Michael’s emotional breakdown after he returns from war with a secret eating away at his conscience, but its a path that doesn’t feel particularly organic, at least not as natural as the film’s performances. Nielsen especially shines here, bringing to life relatively insignificant moments like a bathroom scene early on in the film during which she flashes her toothpaste-covered tongue as a horny Michael’s hand reaches into her shirt in order to cop a feel. Similar to the Dogme-certified Open Hearts, every plot point in the film follows a soapy and well-worn path, but the characters speak to each other as if they’ve known each other their entire lives. Bier’s visual palette lacks excitement this time around, suggesting she works best under the pressure of a stringent manifesto or studio’s demands, but she continues to display a remarkable knack for approximating the natural rhythms of the real world. A return-to-form may be in the works, then, for her next feature, Chasing Montana, which takes her to Hollywood and where she’ll work with David E. Kelly and Michelle Pfeiffer. If she does for Pfeiffer what she did for Nielsen in Brothers, maybe Mrs. Kelly will walk home an Oscar winner next year.
- IFC Films
- 113 min
- Susanne Bier
- Anders Thomas Jensen
- Connie Nielsen, Ulrich Thomsen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Bent Mejding, Solbjørg Højfeldt, Sarah Juel Werner, Rebecca Løgstrup, Bjarne Antonisen, André Babikian, Laura Bro, Alex Caan
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