The new odd couple: a priest and a neo-nazi
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 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.
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