Tag Archives: Claes Bang

From the Land of the Ice and Snow

The Northman

by Hope Madden

Robert Eggers releases his third feature this week, a Viking adventure on an epic scale called The Northman.

You had me at Robert Eggers.

On display once again are the filmmaker’s aesthetic instincts, his mastery of framing, and his ability to squeeze every ounce of brutal beauty from a scene. This film is gorgeous, simultaneously broadcasting the wonder and unconquerable ruggedness of its Nordic land and seascapes.

There are also familiar faces. Anya-Taylor Joy plays Olga, a spoil of war too cunning to remain long in bonds. She’s joined in smaller roles by Eggers favorites Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, and Willem Dafoe as a wizened court jester.

Now, if you’re not a fan of the director’s two previous features, 2015’s The Witch and 2019’s The Lighthouse, that does not necessarily predict your feelings about his latest effort. Eggers is working in a different genre with a different, far larger cast and scope this time around.

Alexander Skarsgård is the film’s titular hero; Claes Bang, his uncle and foe.

What you have is a classic vengeance tale: prince witnesses royal betrayal and the murder of his father. He loses his mother and his crown and vows revenge. You’ve seen the trailer.

I will avenge you, father.

I will save you, mother.

I will kill you, Fjolnir.

Skarsgård is cut to play a Viking. His performance is primarily physical: blind rage looking for an outlet. He’s believably vicious, bloodthirsty, single-minded and, when necessary, vulnerable. The entire cast around him is equally convincing.

Nicole Kidman – who played Skarsgård’s wife in the HBO series Big Little Lies, graduates to mother here, while Ethan Hawke plays his father, King Aurvandil War-Raven.

That’s a good name.

Oh, plus Bjork because Iceland. In fact, Egger’s co-writer here, beloved Icelandic novelist and screenwriter Sjón, penned not only last year’s gorgeous folk horror The Lamb, but also Bjork’s early work with Lars von Trier, Dancer in the Dark.

Classic is exactly how The Northman feels. The story is gritty and grand, the action brutal and the storytelling majestic. As is the case with Eggers, expect a fair amount of the supernatural and surreal to seep in here and there, but not enough to outweigh the meticulously crafted period realism.

Diamond Life

Locked Down

by George Wolf

If you’re gonna be quarantined, you could do worse than being stuck with Anne Hathaway or Chiwetel Ejiofor. They’re both extremely talented and – inexplicable internet hate notwithstanding – easy to like.

But in Locked Down, their characters don’t like each other much anymore. In fact, Linda and Paxton were just about to split up when the stay-at-home orders came down. So now he’s been furloughed, she’s been firing people via Skype, and they keep to opposite ends of their (pretty sweet) London townhouse.

But fate is a funny thing, and though Paxton thinks it’s long been against him, suddenly he and Linda have the opportunity to steal a priceless diamond from Herrod’s without anyone noticing.

In writer Steven Knight’s resume of big ups (Locke) and major downs (Serenity – I mean wtf?) Locked Down is a creamy middle with a pleasant enough aftertaste.

Though the dialogue is filled with too-perfect banter and characters who casually drop references to Norse mythology while getting tripped up over “implode” and “explode”, everyone involved seems like their having fun. Expect a couple laugh out loud moments as well, so there’s that.

Hathaway and Ejiofor exude effortless charisma, and a parade of cameos (Ben Stiller, Ben Kingsley, Mindy Kaling, Stephen Merchant, Claes Bang) adds to the comfort food feeling.

And since this is a true socially distant production, most of those famous faces are seen only on computer screens, with director Doug Liman making sure there are plenty of Zoom glitches and other overdone reminders of our interesting times.

But though Liman is best known for action flicks (Edge of Tomorrow, Mr. and Mrs. Smith) this is no Ocean’s Two. The heist is small scale and forgettable fun, but it’s when we’re gently reminded about the things the pandemic hasn’t changed – only revealed – that Locked Down finds a relevant voice.

Locked Down is available now on HBOMax

Paint By Numbers

The Last Vermeer

by Hope Madden

Who doesn’t like a story about swindling Nazis?

There’s something festive in that notion, and Dan Friedkin’s The Last Vermeer does what it can to keep the mood light as one of Holland’s unsung artists is accused of consorting with Nazis to help Goering purchase a painting by Dutch master Vermeer.

The film is set shortly after the end of WWII. Claes Bang, who seems to only make films about art (Burnt Orange Heresy, The Cube), plays Captain Joseph Piller. A former member of the resistance with a strained family life, Piller is part of an operation that finds said Vermeer, Christ and the Adulteress.

The problem with this movie is that Friedkin treats it like a mystery. Mysteries are cool, and the reveal here is certainly interesting, but there very are few clues to follow. And following those few clues are characters far less interesting than Han Van Meegeren, played here with fanciful, libidinous panache by Guy Pearce and someone’s joke of a pair of eyebrows.

Van Meegeren’s crime, if he did collaborate with Nazis to move a masterpiece from Holland’s greatest artist, is a capital one. Not that you’d know that from Pearce’s flashes of eccentricity and decadence. He seems to be enjoying himself. His character—and, indeed, Van Meegeren himself—commands attention.

Too bad Friedkin and his slew of scriptwriters decided to bury the lede. In one of those Hollywood moves, this film chose to sideline its main character—the real life figure who could face a firing squad—in favor of a safe, blandly attractive hero we can all root for.


Worse still is the criminal underuse of The Phantom Thread’s Vicky Krieps as the attractive but honorable assistant.

The Last Vermeer is one of those hopelessly manipulated true histories. It looks good, although nothing about the direction seems inspired. Instead the film delivers a competently made, by-the-numbers historical recreation when it could have been art.

My Back Pages

The Bay of Silence

by George Wolf

You know those films that make you think, “Man, I bet this was a great book”?

The Bay of Silence is one of those. It has the intrigue, the mystery and the performances to hold your attention, but it feels as if something’s missing. Something like several pages, or even a chapter or two from Lisa St. Aubin de Terán’s 1986 novel.

Design firm exec Will (Claes Bang) and photographer Rosalind (Olga Kurylenko) are enjoying an idyllic getaway in Italy, where Will pops the question with a pull tab (don’t worry, he’s good for a real ring). An opening prologue gives us a glimpse of some trauma in Rosalind’s youth, but it seems like Will, Rosalind and her 8 year-old twin daughters can look forward to happiness as a blended family.

Months later, a very pregnant Rosalind falls from a balcony. Though baby Amedeo is delivered healthy, Rosalind has changed. She’s convinced that she actually delivered another set of twins, and that everyone involved (including Will) is in on the deception.

Ros returns to her photography and her erratic behavior continues, until Will returns home to find his wife, the children, and their nanny (Shalisha James-Davis) all gone.

Will turns to Rosalind’s mother (Alice Krige) and manager/former stepfather Milton (Bryan Cox) for answers, but the mystery of Rosalind’s past, present and future only deepens.

Are we dialing M for madness of murderousness? Director Paula van Der Oest (Oscar nominee for 2001’s Zus & Zo) nails a Hitchcock vibe in spots, but the adapted screenplay from Caroline Goodall – or an editing hachet job order from the studio – leaves too many dangling threads for a completely satisfying payoff.

Rosalind’s fascination with twins is just one of the questions nurtured and then forgotten, apparently in service of a quicker trip to the resolution which is telegraphed pretty early on.

The cast is uniformly splendid (especially Cox, natch) and the locales ooze sophistication. But while The Bay of Silence qualifies as perfectly acceptable adult fare, you can’t help wishing it would have said a little more.

Harsh Mistress

The Burnt Orange Heresy

by George Wolf

A prestigious art critic (Claes Bang) with a mysterious new fling (Elizabeth Debicki) is hired by an uber wealthy dealer (Mick Jagger) to get his hands on a work from a reclusive master (Donald Sutherland).

Things slowly unravel.

With The Burnt Orange Heresy, director Giuseppe Capotondi and writer Scott B. Smith adapt Charles Willeford’s novel into a stylish thriller that casts a cynical eye on art, criticism, privilege and honesty.

The writing is playfully seductive and the cast is a joy, setting a delicious hook that keeps you guessing, at least for a while. And while the finale struggles with consistency, the final shot sends an undeniable message.

The truth can be a harsh mistress.

Social Distortion

The Square

by George Wolf

Ruben Ostlund is a filmmaker fascinated with social contracts. He dissects them with a precision that can be both insightful and comedic. And now with The Square, he displays an equally deft handling of the absurd.

In 2014’s Force Majeure, Ostlund brilliantly exposed the folly of mixing societal assumptions and righteous intentions. This time out, his eye is trained on the growing distance between the classes and the social quandaries of privileged egocentricities.

Christian (Claes Bang) is curator at an art museum in Sweden, making preparations for the debut of a new exhibition called The Square. Once unveiled, it promises a “sanctuary of trust and caring,” where all will enjoy equal rights.

As Christian and his team ponder various marketing plans for the new venture, Christian’s phone and wallet are stolen, he must fight Anne (Elizabeth Moss) for possession of a used condom, a monkey puts on makeup in a lavish hotel suite, an aggrieved young boy makes good on a promise to fill Christian’s life with chaos, and two men race to right a wrong in a vehicle they giddily dub the “Tesla of Justice.”

Regardless of whether you’re able to make sense of it all, Ostlund continues to bring visionary scope to his writing and direction. Nearly every frame becomes a lavishly fascinating microscope, probing deep into the inner impulses and outward pressures that are constantly forming our actions and reactions.

The humor is dark and droll, often awkward and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, but The Square (winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes) is also alternatively weird and occasionally freakish. Scenes are filled with subtle subtexts, shifting tones and burgeoning ideas, but through it all, Ostlund weaves a persistent, telling theme.

Character after character is seen, through different forms and varying levels of desperation, asking for help. As society is not quite the sanctuary of trust and caring offered by the new exhibit, Ostlund digs into both the motivations for, and reactions to, these pleas, always relishing the chance to open wounds and twist knives.

The Square is more evidence that Ostlund is a challenging, ambitious filmmaker whose work demands attention. It’s a visceral, thoroughly rewarding experience.