Starring: Thor Kristjansson, Johannes Haukur Johannesson, Damon Younger, Maria Birta
Running Time: 104 minutes
“Based on some shit that actually happened”, is how this Icelandic crime thriller opens up. The very phrasing of this sentence as opposed to the usual “Based on a true story” suggests how apathetic society has become when dealing with the war on drugs. BLACK’S GAME is the typical story of a young man’s rise to power and greed in a drugs operation, but it gives us enough unique twists and turns to make this a powerful, shocking, and at times enjoyable film.
The film begins with a series of photographs of babies growing up into who we will soon know as our protagonists. It serves as a reminder that the rather shady characters we are about to meet were also children once. We’re then transported into a first person shot of someone enjoying a night out. They’re drinking shots, getting rejected by women, and soon they smash a glass over someone’s head. This technique literally puts us in the shoes of our main character. These two techniques may be fairly obvious and simple, but they work and aren’t overused throughout the film.
We meet the culprit of aforementioned glassing as he is released from jail the next morning. Stebbi (Kristjansson) has long greasy hair and a biker’s jacket, a far cry from the photographs that opened the film. Stebbi meets an old childhood friend, Toti (Johannesson), who tells him he can get him a lawyer and some work. Toti sends Stebbi into a flat to find some hidden drugs that even the cops were unable to find. Stebbi manages to do so, but is interrupted by a gang member. Stebbi beats him to within an inch of his life and immediately gains the respect of Toti. Their lives change when they are asked to meet Bruno (Younger), a sadistic and cruel man that will go to any lengths to make a fake car accident look real, even if that means breaking your ribs with a hammer.
The trio are soon at the centre of a drug dealing organisation and as always in these stories, things get better before they get worse. But when they get worse it’s something so shocking and disturbing that you will never forget it. Anybody who misinterpreted the message of SCARFACE should be shown this film. In no way does this glamourise the lives these men lead. BLACK’S GAME works because of its knowing winks to previously established gangster films. One scene has Toti and Stebbi about to exact some THE GODFATHER style revenge on a horse, but are taken aback by a whole stable full of the creatures with no way of telling which one they are after.
Set in 1999, the film shows a gang of guys simply in it for the money. They try robbing a bank, but the effort, danger, and small amount of cash they get away with just doesn’t compare to their drug operations. The film does well in keeping the police’s involvement to a minimum. It demonstrates how these criminals are the cause of their own undoing, and also makes them a surprisingly likable bunch as they keep their vicious and illegal tendencies within their own group. If you have been left feeling empty from recent drug/crime pics, then this is certainly the film for you to enjoy at first but then get shocked out of apathy. Just like the character of Stebbi himself.