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Black’s Game ("Svartur á leik")

North American Premiere
  • Iceland
  • 2012
  • 100 mins
  • HD
  • Icelandic
  • English (subtitles)
Official Selection, Rotterdam International Film Festival 2012
Official Selection, Hong Kong International Film Festival 2012

The Icelandic gangster/drug scene of the late 1990s explodes vividly into life in this throttling directorial debut from cinematographer Óskar Thór Axelsson, executive-produced by none other than Nicolas Winding Refn (DRIVE, VALHALLA RISING, the PUSHER series).

The year is 1999, the place is Reykjavic. Thrown into the criminal system by way of a drunken brawl, young Stebbi Psycho (Thor Kristjansson) finds himself in desperate need of a lawyer. Fate appears to smile on him when he crosses paths with childhood friend Tóti (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson), now a hardened thug with connections aplenty. He promises Stebbi the best legal aid that blood money can buy in exchange for “a favour”. That favour catapults Stebbi straight into the heart of a criminal gang on the verge of becoming the most brutal and powerful kings of Iceland’s drug trade — an underworld industry that until now has been reasonably laid back and only occasionally violent. That’s about to change.

Prepare to see a sleaze-drenched, blood-soaked side of Iceland rarely portrayed in cinema, a dazzling account of the evolution of that nation’s dealer scene from the comparatively chill approach of the past to today’s era of ultraviolent pusher thugdom. BLACK’S GAME is an intense, stylish thriller glistening with flair and brutality. Based on Stefán Máni’s bestselling Icelandic crime novel, the film plays like GOODFELLAS by way of PUSHER, its frame lines singed with a dizzying assortment of colourful characters and explosive bursts of violence, its snowy landscape charged with blood, testosterone, sex and cocaine. While it’s clearly indebted to the best of the last 40 years of crime cinema, emphatically wearing its influences on its sleeve, BLACK’S GAME is so forcefully executed that it’s impossible not to get pulled into the dilated eye of its storm. This film moves like a snake strapped to a firecracker. Axelsson has called it “a coming-of-age tale of the Icelandic underworld”. Much like the drug trade at the end of the last millennium, Icelandic cinema is changing into a dangerous and uncompromising new animal. The howls of its metamorphosis are echoing straight across the Atlantic as BLACK’S GAME makes its way here for its North American premiere.

— Mitch Davis