One of the my favorite things about watching international films is seeing how foreign directors handle plots that are similar to the plots of other American films. In Northwest, director Michael Noer has shot a typical crime thriller about a young criminal’s rise and subsequent fall in a way that’s hardly typical.
Casper (Gustav Dyekjær Giese) is a a small-time burglar who breaks into homes and sells whatever he can find of value to Jamal (Dulfi Al-Jabouri). Jamal treats Casper with disrespect, and Casper’s younger brother Andy (Oscar Dyekjær Giese) is often beat up and otherwise abused by Jamal and his friends. A man named Bjørn (Roland Møller) approaches Casper based on his reputation as a thief, and although Casper is initially hesitant to work for him because he suspects that Bjørn is tied to a criminal biker gang, Bjørn offers more money than Jamal. Casper begins to become very successful working for Bjørn, and even pulls in Andy on some jobs when Casper’s friend and usual partner in crime, Robin (Nicholas Westwood Kidd), backs out. However, Jamal is not happy about Casper no longer working for him, and Casper and his family will face the consequences. Meanwhile, Casper and Andy’s mother (Lene Maria Christensen) turns a blind eye to her sons’ activities because it supports the family, though is also concerned about his welfare.
Northwest follows the typical narrative arc of a crime film about a hotshot criminal who bites off more than he can chew. In other words, you’ve seen this plot in a hundred other gangster films. Nonetheless, several elements make Northwest interesting. First, the setting of Copenhagen is interesting and sets it apart from American or English crime films. Most of the scenes are set during the day and outside, which gives the otherwise seedy proceedings a bright look. But what’s even more interesting is the relationship between Casper and Andy. Casper is aware of his limitations and appears to know that despite playing a “big time” gangster deep down inside he is only a petty thief. On the other hand, Andy is hungrier than his older brother, something that makes his character an enigma. Director Michael Noer has created a nice balance between Casper’s life of crime and his family life, and it is only when the two begin to merge that he begins to lose control. Noer co-wrote the script with Rasmus Heisterberg (who wrote the screenplay for the original Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), and his influence is clear here.
So while the story of Northwest is definitely the type of film that you’ve seen before, there is still enough that is unique here to keep it interesting. However, if you’re not interested in seeing the same story over again you’ll probably want to pass.
RATING: Despite having a plot that’s been done over and over again, it’s worth a look to see how it unfolds (6/10).