Dir: Tobias Lindholm, Michael Noer
Starring: Johan Philip Asbæk, Dulfi Al-Jabouri, Roland Møller
When I come across a film simply titled ‘R’, this single letter is enough to get my attention. I was semi familiar with what this film was about, a subject matter that I have seen many times in film and television. I was not hesitant to watch it, nor did I have any expectations going in. You see R is classified as a ‘set in prison’ film, and these usually tend to be excellent or not well realised. R kind of falls somewhere just below excellent, it is a good film despite the fact it is telling a well known story full of stereotyped characters and clichés.
R tells the story of Rune, he has committed a violent crime (at least from what we can gather) and he is placed into a very rough prison in Denmark. Once there he is subjected to all the big dogs picking on the little dog, he does as he is told so he won’t suffer beatings or anything worse. He tries to find his way in the prison, and along this way he befriends Rashid and the pair find a small business that can help them get by. Prison is a tough and rough place, and this film really aims to show that. Rune isn’t here to win people over, or over come the odds, and most importantly he does not have any friends. His time in prison is harsh despite his best efforts, as you can see this isn’t a new story but it is told well.
This will likely draw comparisons to other similar themed films, but I will steer clear of doing that and judge the film on its own merits. It actually really tries to portray this prison in a realistic fashion, I believe some of the prisoners were actual ex-cons and some of the guards were former guards. The men in this film look scary, and Rune is a very small dog compared to them. He tries to make his way but as it is with any situation things don’t go according to plan. There are no friends in prison, and anyone who sticks by you has their own agenda. This all clearly plays out, and up until the end of the second half it suffered from a bit of ‘seen this before’. But as it enters its third act it takes an unusual swing and by doing this, the film elevated itself and proved it had the courage to do something different.
Performances here are fantastic, I mean everyone is believable and does a top notch job. There were no issues with anyone; each prisoner is really a scared dog that will do whatever it takes to show the others who has the power. They don’t shy away from showing this, nor do they shy away from exposing themselves in different ways. The stars though are Johan Philip Asbæk and Dulfi Al-Jabouri as Rune and Rashid respectively. Both give strong performances, and Asbæk especially plays up the sympathy card that makes this all the more emotional.
Directors Tobias Lindholm and Michael Noer did a great job here, they certainly thought outside the box and delivered. The film takes that fly on a wall approach, and the colour is all but washed out. The pacing is slow, but it fits in with the prison, because that experience would hardly be anything other than slow. This is a strong film, with very few faults and if you can bare it this is well worth the watch.
The Australian DVD:
The DVD I reviewed was a screener, so I am unable to comment on Picture/Audio quality.
DVD details here.
Thanks to Bill (Gryphon Entertainment) care of The Analogue Titles for the copy.