This week’s film comes from director Ole Bornedal (Nightwatch, Nightwatch), and it shows us that white people are violent and racist bastards no matter the language. An educated man named Johannes moves his family back to his small hometown and finds trouble when a local immigrant is targeted by townspeople out for revenge. The dark-skinned, Bosnian refugee is falsely accused of killing a kindly old woman, and when the angry, Danish citizens come looking for justice Johannes puts the lives of his family and himself at risk by taking the man into his home for protection. Bornedal’s film is part thriller and part social commentary as it explores the motivations of people both good and bad. And the razor thin line between the two…
“It begins way out here in the sticks… where the road only leads forward and backwards. For here, the world is simple.”
A young mother named Pernille (Lene Nystrøm) interrupts a fight between her two children and turns it into a lesson on morality, sadness, and evil. She says there are no evil people, only those who are sad and don’t have love in their lives. The kids argue that Osama Bin Laden sure does smile a lot for someone supposedly so sad… and she sends them off to brush their teeth. Her husband Johannes (Lasse Rimmer) is a successful attorney who moved the family back to his home town to enjoy the peace and tranquility of rural living, and in addition to making decisions that will come back to bite him in the ass he’s also of the belief that all conflicts can be resolved through dialogue.
But when his brother Lars (Jens Andersen) accidentally runs over the wife of the town’s big boss, an ex-military man named Ingvar (Mogens Pederson), the intentionally cruel finger of blame is pointed at a Bosnian refugee named Alain (Bojan Navojec). Lars and Ingvar work the townsfolk into an inebriated mob of reactionary racists that head out after Alain for revenge. Johannes shelters Alain because it’s the right thing to do and because law and order must be maintained, but that changes when the locals begin to assault his home and his family.
The concept of newcomers forced to square off against locals is nothing new and usually comes in one of two varieties. At its most base you have films like Wrong Turn and The Hills Have Eyes where the conflict between the civilized and uncivilized exists purely as visceral entertainment, but the other end of the spectrum features films designed as commentary as much on the visitors as it is on the ignorant and violent locals. Straw Dogs fits this second type and is the film that comes closest to Bornedal’s latest in theme, tone, and intent.
The mob’s alcohol and racist-fueled actions are easy targets, but the film also touches on Denmark as a nation overflowing with immigrants and a populace that has grown weary and fearful of these new neighbors. Their fear is more than a touch xenophobic, but there’s also the harsh reality of unemployment and a burdened public support system that weighs on their minds. Not that any of that excuses their actions, but Bornedal provides it as a context often missing from films of this nature.
Johannes’ behavior though is the crux of the film. He’s a good man, but there’s no denying he sees himself as better than the riff-raff that populates much of the town. He holds his career, his family, and his head well above many of those around him, but when the situation escalates he’s forced to descend to their more animalistic level… and he likes it. His new found embrace of all things manly will not end well for those around him, especially when he finds his priorities as malleable as the truth.
Deliver Us From Evil makes no excuses for the actions of its antagonists, but it’s still interested in exploring the motivations of all involved. From the knee-jerk reactions and mob mentality of the film’s obvious bad guys to the misguided and ill-advised “heroics” by Johannes, the film’s final stance is that the real world sits uncomfortably between the ideal definitions of right and wrong. That and the fact that white men are total pricks.
The Upside: Strong morality play; finely crafted slow build towards an inferno; soft and somber score underlines the weight of it all; Andersen gives a very strong performance as a very weak man; unpredictable
The Downside: End choices may be difficult to accept and/or understand