« Trailer arrives for strong Black's Game | Filmstalker | Zero Dark Thirty trailer. Bigelow and Boal talk secrets »


Black's Game

Film Four Stars
A European thriller from the Edinburgh International Film Festival, it was all I needed to go and see Black's Game or Svartur á leik as it's also known as in its native Iceland. For me this combination usually means a strong thriller baked in the darker side of reality.

The film isn't just a thriller and it feels very similar to Jackpot (Filmstalker Review) as it mixes thriller, some comedy, action and plenty of drama. With Black's Game we're also watching a dramatised story that reflects something that did happen in Reykjavik history as the criminal element become more organised and took the small criminal drug trade to a violent criminal industry, pouring drugs into the city.

Black's Game takes those events and using fictional characters and gangs builds an entertaining and at times rather dark and frightening thriller around them.

Plot.pngBlacksGame.jpgIn the latter half of the nineties the Reykjavik criminal underworld changed direction and intent becoming more organised and much more violent, focusing more on drug importing and dealing with a much more efficient ruthless aggression. With this as the backdrop for Black's Game we see a fictional character that falls on the wrong side of the law meeting up with an old school friend who helps him out with a lawyer in return for some help in his own business. He's an emerging figure in the criminal underworld with plans to take over and modernise, and he's building a gang around him. At first it seems like our hapless lead isn't going to fit in with this muscle bound criminal with drugs and money in his sights but when a misunderstanding gives him a killer reputation he finds himself in the heart of the criminal revolution. Before long he's a key player and finds his loyalties pulled between two leaders and his own self preservation.

TheFilm.pngBlack's Game turns out to be a good thriller which doesn't follow a normal evolution as thrillers go. This also makes it a little more confusing and a couple of times I did feel that the story had dropped me a little and I had to catch up, but that's not always a bad thing to happen in a thriller and I did get caught up as I gained an understanding of what was happening through the evolving story. When this happens it usually means you have to work a little for your entertainment rather than let it wash over you, and I love that.

The film isn't hugely compelling to begin with and draws you in through the characters rather than anything else. However when the story really gets going and has finished setting up the characters its then that you begin to feel the thriller aspect building as our main character, Stebbi, is pulled along with events that are almost out of his control.

When the gang are at their most successful events seem to spiral out of control and the thriller is at its most intense, for its here where the leader of the gang who is clearly psychotic, really does lose control or rather deliberately let go of all control and indulge in his power and position. This seems to hit during a huge celebration party where everything is indulged and it's where the film delivers a huge shock to the characters and the audience. It suddenly changes your understanding of the major characters and adds a darker tone to the film.

From here the film keeps the darker, more serious feel not least because this moment hangs around in your mind and sullies the water of whatever happens to the characters. It also sets up a strong rivalry that you genuinely don't know which way it will turn until you actually see it happen.

It does also have an interesting effect on the dynamics of Stebbi and Tóti as you start to see these recent events with Stebbi reflected in Tóti's character. It's an aspect of the film that taints and turns so much of the film from the inside out, helped along by your own mind.

I don't really want to go into too much detail for fear of giving something away or dampening the effect of the film, and I also don't want to oversell the film on the strength of this thread and the instigating moments, but they are strong and it does provide for a good dramatic story.

It's not all thriller and darker tone though as there are some amusing moments, mainly in the beginning of the film and as the criminal success grows so the humour is pushed to the back and the more serious side evolves. Still, the moment of the girlfriend arriving during the self indulgent evening of drug taking and internet porn is rather amusing.

We see some strong writing through the film, not just in the way the gangs rise to the top and fall back down but also in the way the characters are created and fit together. When we first meet our lead of Stebbi he is quite the hapless character well over his head, but as his involvement grows so does he and he becomes at ease with the reputation he receives, building a new persona that fits him well for much of the film.

There's an escalation through the characters we meet and each marks a change in the main characters we already know. For instance when we first meet the muscle bound leader Tóti our attitude to him is quite clear, but come the time when we meet the character of Bruno our attitudes to Tóti and Stebbi have changed and we feel a little more closer and personable to them, it's the introduction of Bruno that again changes our understanding of the characters and their dynamics taking a sudden turn. I really liked the way this felt and the way it delivered through the film, and on reflection it feels much stronger.

I would have liked to have seen more of the development of the power play between the two leaders and perhaps a little more of how scared Tóti really is of Bruno. As it is there are hints here and the rest is left to our imagination, perhaps just as well considering how much we witness when Bruno's attention is turned on Stebbi.

Thor Kristjansson, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson and Damon Younger all perform well and really do give their all to their characters in some key scenes - that's Stebbi, Tóti and Bruno resepectively. Jóhannesson does a great job of turning his character around to one which the audience will connect with and feel for whereas Younger turns from a slightly unhinged and dangerous character to a truly unhinged and psychotic one.

It's not all in the writing and performances though as there are some great sequences to watch and one that sticks to the fore of my mind as an example is the portrayal of how the gang organise the drug running operations. This is a great sequence to watch and the use of the different mobile phones and the cutting back and forth is very well handled and that leads us to how well the film looks and how well it is filmed and edited. It carries a good degree of style and the focus is always on the characters and the story rather than trying to oversell the looks of the film.

Overall.pngBlack's Game is a strong film that delivers a thriller moving from a small scale story with a little more humour to a darker more serious tale that has some shocking and surprising turns. The major moment turns the characters round and sets up the path that they are destined to travel for the rest of the film. It comes out of nowhere and is a little disturbing to watch but so much the better for it.

A well written thriller that at times is a little confusing and could have had a little more flow to the events but is entertaining and carries some good performances that draw you into the often surprising and well created characters. It's not just the story that develops through the film but also the characters themselves and that is one of the strong points.

Another good thriller delivered from a surprising place and with a depth of writing and style, managing to create a dark and engaging thriller with a good few surprises.

More on Edinburgh International Film Festival 2012 on Filmstalker
More on other Festivals on Filmstalker
Edinburgh International Film Festival Official Site
Rent Black's Game from LOVEFILM
Buy from
UK IMDB Film Details




Site Navigation

Latest Stories


Latest Reviews


Filmstalker Poll


Subscribe with...

Site Feeds

Subscribe to Filmstalker:

All articles

Reviews only

Audiocasts only

Subscribe to the Filmstalker Audiocast on iTunesAudiocasts on iTunes



Help Out

Site Information

Creative Commons License
© filmstalker.co.uk

Give credit to your sources. Quote and credit, don't steal

Movable Type 3.34