Complex, multi-layered, multi-timeline thrillers are one thing, but when the the characters are speaking Icelandic there’s another level of attention required. As a first exposure to the film of that country, however, one could do a lot worse than Jar City.
There are nasty things afoot in Iceland, with the tragic death of a young girl from a genetic illness not the least of them. Decades old crimes are returning to prominence, and the murder of a well-known former criminal will thrust many people into a limelight they don’t desire. Detective Inspector Erlendur (Ingvar Sigurõsson) is tasked with unravelling the connections and solving the murder, and yet he must also deal with his own problems as his adult daughter is a pregnant drug addict. Dark days indeed.
Genetic conditions are fertile ground for crime thrillers, and the public’s fascination with police procedure and forensic science can be attested to by the rampant success of Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta series of novels and more recently tv’s ‘CSI: Crime Scene Investigation’. Jar City takes a little while to reveal its colours, but becomes an intelligent thriller that explores the darker side of life.
It may be hard to convey the bleak nature of the film – the colours on screen are washed out and the settings are often plagued by darkness in perfect complement to the material on the screen. Rape, murder, addiction and pornography all feature in the plot, while even the jaded policeman has his demons to contend with. If one were to make an advertisement in order to encourage tourists to Iceland, Jar City is essentially everything they shouldn’t include. The stunning countryside of Iceland is used to good effect, however, with wind-swept coastlines and barren marshlands adding further to the considerable evidence that some of the best thrillers are set in the extreme landscapes of our far north.
Performances are generally strong, and there are occasional moments of levity to reduce the tension. The direction of Baltasar Kormákur is tight, and the cinematography is stunning as already mentioned. The film’s structure may be seen by some as a weakness, with multiple timelines contributing to a sense that there is much more to the story than is being displayed on screen, but also perhaps encouraging confusion in the audience. Attentive viewers, however, will appreciate flagposts along the journey.
Although there are times when Jar City is slightly hard to follow, the pay-off is a rewarding albeit bleak experience. Recommended.Rating: