In 10 Words or Less
The new odd couple: a priest and a neo-nazi
Loves: Dark comedy, faith
Likes: Good foreign films
Hates: The darkness inside man
All you need to know about this film, the third in a trilogy by Danish writer/director Anders Thomas Jensen, is summed up in this thought I had while watching it: "I've never laughed so hard watching a man get shot." A dark, dark film that explores the existence of evil and the difference between faith and delusion, Adam's Apples is at times hilarious, at times shocking, and at other times depressing, but it's almost always brilliant, until its winds its way to an ending that is too predictable for such an original film.
The plot itself sounds too out-there to be anything but a goof: Adam (Ulrich Thomsen), a neo-nazi, gets out of prison on a work-release program that sends him to a country church run by Ivan (Mads Mikkelsen), a priest who always looks on the bright side of life, and believes the Devil is behind all evil, and God will forgive all, whether it's a neo-nazi, or the other convicts working for him, like Gunnar, a thief and rapist, and Khalid, an armed robber. As part of the program, Adam has to pick a goal, which for him is to bake a pie. So his job is to protect the apple tree outside the church, which is under attack by blackbirds, worms and blight. Adam has a different job in mind though, as he seeks to break Ivan of his positivity, and prove to him people are capable of evil, and through a pattern of physical violence and psychological assault, Adam begins his war on Ivan's faith.
To reveal anymore about Ivan or Adam would serve only to rob potential viewers of the treats to come, which are revealed as a woman named Sarah arrives at the church, looking for advice regarding her illegitimate unborn child, who is at risk of brain damage due to her alcoholism. It's an incredible backstory that unfurls, in ways that are hard to believe even as they appear before your eyes. One scene, in which Sarah breaks down while talking to Ivan is fantastic, as the priest's gift for ignoring the negative aspects of life manifests itself in ridiculous requests that result in hysterical reactions from Adam. It's the outstanding acting by Thomsen and Mikkelsen that allow such an unusual story work as well as it does here.
While the acting is terrific, Jensen, one of the forces behind the dogme film concept, made a gorgeous movie that shows touches of inspiration from Tim Burton and James Whale, as the two halves of the movie couldn't be more different, visually representing the increasing influence Adam has over the church. Subtle is one word missing from the film's vocabulary though, as religious allegory and symbolism coats the film thickly. Even the soundtrack doesn't leave much to guess at, including the use of a Bee-Gees song that's just about perfectly placed. The ending might actually be the least subtle part of the film, as it's very storybook and predictable, and goes on much longer than it needed to.
The one caveat that must be provided is a warning regarding the violence in the film. To say it's extreme would be understating matters, as it doesn't fit in with the rest of the film, and is so graphic it draws gasps. Despite that, it is responsible for one of the funniest moments in the entire film, as Khalid is confronted by Adam's neo-nazi cohorts. Somehow, the inability of this Saudi Arabian native to speak Danish is translated to English subtitles perfectly, and the action is handled incredibly smoothly by the actors and Jensen, resulting in a scene dripping in dark-comedy genius.
The 10th film in the Film Movement's fifth year, Adam's Apples is packed in a cardboard digipak, with notes on the inside cover, the DVD is a one-disc affair, with a mildly-animated anamorphic widescreen menu that offers options to watch the film, select scenes, adjust languages and check out the extras. There are no audio options, though subtitles are available in English, along with closed captioning.
The anamorphic widescreen transfer on this film looks very nice, with appropriate color and a good level of detail, though in spots, it felt a bit soft. There's no noticeable dirt or damage visible, and the image is free of digital artifacts. Even when the film gets very dark in the later stages, the film still impresses, avoiding the excessive grain that can become a problem with some films.
The audio is presented in a Dolby Digital 2.0 track that won't impress any audiophiles, but it does its job well, with clean dialogue and strong music, as well as some solid sound effects. The mix keeps to the center channel for the most part, with nothing really dynamic involved.
Slim pickings when it comes to bonus material, especially if you're looking for extras related to the film, as all you'll find are three text biographies. The only extra of any real heft is the short film Clara, a beautifully creepy seven-minute animated short that watches as a young girl's life is changed irrevocably. The story doesn't really work well, but the animation, which is reminiscent of Adam Jones' videos for the band Tool, is striking. Other than that, you get a pair of trailers for other Film Movement movies, a list of recent Film Movement titles, a mission statement and a commercial for sponsor Stella Artois.
The Bottom Line
As the credits rolled, I thought, "This is a film that really should be remade in English, to give the wonderful story a wider audience." But then, it's probably the kind of story that works best in its setting and in a foreign language, a fable that might lose its storytelling power in another form. So until the majority of the movie-viewing audience gets over its issues with subtitles, Adam's Apples will remain a pleasant little secret shared by the members of Film Movement, and anyone lucky enough to get their hands on a copy. The DVD looks and sounds solid, though the extras are a bit slim, and the best one has nothing to do with the film. Anyone who enjoys a good, dark story (like the fans of Tim Burton's work or perhaps Twilight Zone enthusiasts) will absolutely want to take a look at this film.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.