“A splitting headache, a dead gangster, twenty kilos of missing coke and 24 hours to sort it all out before getting married. Jos is about to have a very bad day.”
The above comes as the official brief summary of Black Outfrom the Fantastic Fest program guide. It’s the most appropriately succinct way to describe what director Arne Toonen delivers in his sophomore effort. His first film, Dik Trom, was a lighthearted family comedy. This time around, he’s going in a far more devious and delightfully violent direction.
It all hangs on the gruff elegance of leading man Raymond Thiry, whose Jos is a puzzle meant to be pieced together over the course of the film. When we meet him, he’s confused and frightened by the situation in which he find himself. He’s an ex-con, but he’s since cleaned up his life and met the woman of his dreams, who he intends to marry in the next few days. As the story unravels, we find that he was once a very, very bad guy.
Along the way we’re treated — and I don’t use that word lightly — to a number of engaging supporting characters. Not the least of which is Vlad, played by Simon Armstrong, a gay former Russian ballet dancer who runs his cocaine business from a bowling alley with an iron fist. He’s just one of the players. Where Toonen succeeds most is in the delivery of a diverse range of characters, all of which would be an interesting story on their own. Like early Guy Ritchie, the story becomes interesting as we watch these characters — the senile mob boss, his pair of badass tattoo’d lady collectors, the Rolls Royce driving lawyer, the two black thugs who run a dog grooming shop and Jos’ two foul-mouthed former partners, one of which is the Queen of Cocaine — begin to cut through Jos’ story like a knife. He’s just trying to stay out of trouble and live long enough to marry the girl, but everyone seems to want to drag him back into the game.
The mention of early Guy Ritchie isn’t meant as a slight. It’s clear that Toonen has an affection for that kind of frenetic energy, because he brings it to this story so well. It’s a fast-paced, cleverly drawn web of deception that awaits our redeemed hero. The question is only whether he’ll survive to the end. It’s also clear that Toonen, like many a Dutch breakout we’ve seen in recent years, has a sick sense of humor that takes his film places that Guy Ritchie would dare not touch. Brutal beatings, senseless killing and all the other most wonderful of crime thriller elements exist in spades. And all the while, it’s delivered with a wry smile.
It’s not all violence. Well, there is plenty of that. Bursts of extreme violence are just one facet of this film’s bold nature. The colorful and dynamic characters, from the leading man on down, are the glue that holds it all together. Energetic, hyper-violent and weaved around a talented cast. These are elements that make for a fun ride. They make for a really bad day for Jos, but a wicked fun time for the rest of us.
The Upside: An energetic, violent, twisted ride full of colorful characters and memorable moments.
The Downside: Unless you’re averse to films with an abundance of style and substance, I can see no downside.
On the Side: Black Out is still looking for American distribution, but don’t fret, we’ll keep an eye on it for you.
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