Jar City

"Very Good"

Jar City Review


Although it never makes too brazen a point of the matter, one fact that looms over Baltasar Kormákur's chiller Jar City is that although Iceland is not that small a nation geographically, it is infinitesimal in human size. While a country's having only 300,000 people may not matter so much if this was a relationship melodrama, but Jar City is a police procedural revolving around a seemingly motiveless murder, making that number much more important. CSI: Reykjavik would have positively decimated the capital city's population by the end of a third season. In other words, with such an intimately-sized and closely-related nation, everything and everyone is connected; a situation that may be uncomfortable for Icelanders but should be manna for mystery buffs.

Based on Arnaldur Indri?ason's 2000 novel Tainted Blood, Jar City follows the dogged investigation of seasoned Reykjavik detective Erlendur (a suitably weary Ingvar Eggert Sigur?sson) after a man is found murdered. It's a pathetic scene that Erlendur comes across in the bachelor's apartment, and one gets a hint of the demons he has to keep at bay as he tiredly pronounces it a "typical Icelandic murder, messy and pointless." With his partner Sigurdur Óli (Bjorn Hlynur Haraldsson), a nervous type with suspiciously American habits (he's vegetarian, drinks lattes and hates Erlendur's chain-smoking, which gets him incessantly razzed as a "pussy"), the investigation is on, though with precious little to work on.

In life, the murdered man appeared to have little connection with anybody, just working his job and avoiding most contact with the world. A few threads appear, however, that tie the dead man in some remote fashion to a case from the early 1970s involving a few career criminals, a dead child, a rape case, and a corrupt policeman. This sends Erlendur off criss-crossing the stark Icelandic landscape -- beautifully rendered in epic green-grey vistas by cinematographer Bergsteinn Björgúlfsson -- to worry unpleasant facts out of people who'd rather forget about them, all the while berating his partner for being a "pussy."

While dutifully going through the procedural motions with Erlendur's investigation (handled smartly but not without the usual genre limitations), Jar City simultaneously delves into a couple of subplots which keep the primary narrative from becoming too tired. The less developed of the two is one running storyline where two parents worry anxiously over their daughter, who is hospitalized with a rare and likely fatal disease. Kormákur's script ties this story into the film by means of its connection to a nationwide genetic research project of dubious morality (based on a real program in Iceland which has caused quite a bit of controversy).

In the other and more intriguing subplot, Erlendur (a single father) deals with his daughter Eva (Agusta Eva Erlensdottir), an inveterate junkie who begs him to allow her back into his apartment. In one memorable exchange, after Erlendur is mercilessly baited about Eva's bottom-dwelling lifestyle by a monstrous career criminal in an isolated prison, he finds out that she didn't even know the man. Iceland is small enough that word simply got around about the junkie daughter of a Reykjavik cop.

Kormákur, who first came to international attention with 101 Reykjavik, handles the conventions of the procedural with aplomb, wielding the cold grandeur of this North Atlantic island as Biblical backdrop to the drama. The well-directed cast competently handles the genre material, though Sigur?sson stands out as particularly strong. The sight of the tired cop going through his lonely routine has become so rote in American film it's nearly been dispensed with. But somehow, in a film that plumbs some pretty tragic depths, the simple sight of Erlendur stopping by the drive-thru for his "usual" (a takeout box with sheep's brains inside), which he then grimly consumes in his clean, lonely apartment while looking over evidence, still contains more pathos than just about any of the vile crimes witnessed.

Aka Mýrin.

Inside the bell jar.



Jar City

Facts and Figures

Run time: 93 mins

In Theaters: Friday 20th October 2006

Distributed by: IFC First Take

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Fresh: 34 Rotten: 2

IMDB: 7.0 / 10

Cast & Crew

Producer: Agnes Johansen, , Lilja Pálmadóttir

Starring: Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson as Erlendur, Ágústa Eva Erlendsdóttir as Eva Lind, Björn Hlynur Haraldsson as Sigurður Óli, Ólafía Hrönn Jónsdóttir as Elínborg, Atli Rafn Sigurðsson as Örn, Kristbjörg Kjeld as Katrín, Þorsteinn Gunnarsson as Holberg, Theodór Júlíusson as Elliði, Þórunn Magnea Magnúsdóttir as Elín, Guðmunda Elíasdóttir as Theodóra, Walter Grímsson as Handrukkarar, Magnús Ragnarsson as Lögfræðingur, Rafnhildur Rósa Atladótir as Kola, Jón Gnarr as Albert, Valdimar Örn Flygenring as Pilot, Þór Tulinius as Pathologe, Ása Hlín Svavarsdóttir as Starfskona á Hagstofu, Eyvindur Erlendsson as Rúnar, Elma Lísa Gunnarsdóttir as Gunnur, Erlendur Eiríksson as Öryggisvörður, Kristinn Ágúst Friðfinnsson as Fjölskylduprestur, Kári Stefánsson as Himself, Þórhallur Gunnarsson as Fréttamaður, Sigurður Már Ólafsson as Bílstjóri hjá Landflutningum, Hjalti Gunnarsson as Fangavörður #1, Jón Viðar Arnþórsson as Fangavörður #2, Guðrún Birna Gísladóttir as Forstöðukona á Grund, Bjarni Geir Patric Alfreðsson as Kokkur á BSÍ, Katrín Óskarsson as Kona Rúnars, Rósa Olafsdóttir as Eldri kona 1, Osk Gudmundóottir as Eldri kona 2, Thorarinn Oskar Thorarinsson as Eddi, Úlfur Ísfeld Rögnvaldsson as Bróðir Arnars, Sólon Ísfeld Rögnvaldsson as Arnar, Sverrir Einarsson as Útfararstjóri #1, Bryndís Valbjarnardóttir as Útfararstjóri #2, Valgerður Backman as Ritari Arnar, Guðlaug Hermannsdóttir as Afgreiðslustúlka BSÍ, Lalli Johns as Himself

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