Northwest (Nordvest) (2013)

Northwest (Nordvest) first published by Film4

Synopsis: From the co-director of R (2010) and the producers of A Hijacking (2012) comes this social realist gangster drama set on the mean streets of a Copenhagen district.

Review: In Nordvest, a multicultural working class district of Copenhagen, 18-year-old skinhead Casper (Gustav Dyekjær Giese) is a mass of conflicts and contradictions. In the absence of his own father, he tries to be a protective, paternal influence on his brother Andy (Dyekjær Giese’s real-life brother Oscar) and much younger sister Freja (Annemieke Bredahl Peppink), while helping out his mother (Lene Maria Christensen) as best he can. This he does through acts of petty burglary for local gangster Jamal (Dulfi Al-Jaburi), even if he feels both ripped off and excluded from the gang’s inner circle for not being an Arab. Lured into more lucrative criminal activities by rival crime boss Bjørn (Roland Møller), and in turn bringing Andy into the business, Casper will find himself at dangerous odds with Jamal, with Andy, and with his own nature.

Shot in a rough-and-ready handheld style that signals its social realist allegiances, Northwest (Nordvest) is in many ways as much a prison flick as R (2010), the film which Michael Noer previously co-directed with Tobias Lindholm. Now helming solo for the first time, Noer shows a protagonist becoming increasingly trapped by forces in his environment – and within himself – that are pulling in irreconcilable directions. Indeed, Casper is, ironically enough, at his very safest when placed – voluntarily, and all too briefly – in police custody. It is back outside, on his home turf, where he is most at risk, and where escape seems impossible.

Without wishing to spoil what is in fact too unresolved an ending to be truly spoiled, the film’s final image of a pathway at a cemetery points clearly to where this young chancer’s decisions are taking him. It is true that Casper has come to be here in part through a combination of greed, pride and ambition – but it is ultimately Casper’s morally motivated desires to do the right thing by both his brother and his enemy that are his real downfall. From paradoxes like these comes Northwest‘s provocative complexity as a portrait of criminal hearts and minds.

Verdict: Noer’s tale of two brothers comes with a strong sense of crime’s place.

© Anton Bitel