Wild Men – Review

Wild Men Glasgow Film FestivalThe mid-life crisis has become something of a cliché. Both in real life and in films and television. Men, typically, ditch their wives for a younger model and start buying shiny red sports cars, which they drive around with the roof down. They want to reclaim or recapture that essence of youth; who they were before life and responsibilities took over. They want to reconnect with a better, younger version of themselves.

But, in Martin’s (Rasmus Berg) case, he wants to opt out of society altogether. Tired of the daily grind, the deluge of emails, the familial responsibilities and the sense of constantly being “on”, he decides to escape. Telling his wife that he’s going on a team building retreat in work, he casts off the digital life and takes up home in the forests of Norway. There, he lives in furs, hunts his own food and sleeps in a tent. He also seems to sob wildly every day.

This is how Thomas Daneskov’s darkly humourous drama, Wild Men, opens. We see stunning panoramas of misty mountains, crystal clear waterfalls and seemingly endless forest. Martin emerges, tall and broad, looking like an authentic Viking. It’s only when he cries into his supper – a mere frog, his only catch of the day – that we realise something is wrong. From there, all kinds of narrative twists and turns ensue.

Martin crosses paths with Musa (Zaki Youssef) a drug smuggler, who is on the run from a grievous car crash, in which he left his fellow dealers for dead. His wife Anne (Sofie Gråbøl) is desperately seeking his return to their family home. He is also pursued by the local police, in the shape of Øyvind (Bjørn Sundquist), who is keen to ask Martin a few questions about a hold up at a local petrol garage. The film uses these intertwining narratives to their fullest, making for an enjoyable, quirky, almost Coen-esque type of caper.

What Daneskov really manages to balance well is the tone. There are lots of fantastic moments of dark humour peppered throughout the film but he uses some of the more quiet scenes to really hammer home poignant messages about life and love. This is particularly evident in the character of Øyvind who, on the surface is a jaded old cop but, in reality, is still grieving the loss of his wife. The scene where he climbs into bed and taps the empty space beside him is heartbreaking. There are also certain elements of the film that feel like a “buddy road trip” comedy. Martin and Musa make for an odd pairing and they follow the typical path of journey, revelation, fall out and resolution. It’s just that they do so against the backdrop of the Norwegian wilderness and a drugs deal gone wrong.

And yet, despite everything that is going on in these narrative strands, the film has something subdued and subtle about it. Yes, there is violence and marital drama, but everything feels quite contained. You never feel like you’re on the brink of getting some hyperbolic slapstick Wild Men Glasgow Film Festivalroutine. Instead, there’s a quiet undercurrent that fizzes away beneath the surface. Even the colour palette is muted – full of denim blues, murky greys and deep beiges. The horns and percussion in the score are the only things that really “pop”. This isn’t a criticism – it’s a very unique take on a subject that has been done to death in cinema and it really helps with the more absurdist elements of the plot.

The performances are all excellent throughout. Rasmus Berg could have portrayed Martin as something of a buffoon. Instead, what we get from him is a very real and understandable point of personal and professional crisis, albeit realised in an unconventional way. He doesn’t know quite what he is searching for, he just knows he won’t find it spending his days in an office. Bjørn Sundquist conveys a lot of pain in the outwardly gruff Øyvind. Zaki Youssef is entirely likeable as Musa. He’s not a bad person, simply mixed up with the wrong people. He and Martin seem to bring out the best in each other. Sofie Gråbøl doesn’t have too much to do other than panic but she lends Anne the type of emotional dignity you would expect from such a talented performer.

At 1 hour 44 minutes, it does feel like there could be fifteen minutes or so shaved off the overall run time. It does take a little too long to get to the final wrap up of all of the storylines whilst others – such as the young couple who are hijacked – are simply never mentioned again. The “final showdown”, as it were, does possess all the dark humour, emotional and subtlety of the rest of the film. It just feels like it takes a while to get there. But Wild Men does have enough going for it to keep it enjoyable and interesting.

Offering up a different, quirky take on the mid-life crisis, Wild Men is a well acted, interesting approach to self-discovery.

Wild Men is screening at the Glasgow Film Festival 2022. Book your tickets here.

Mary Munoz
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