R: Hit First, Hit Harder

"Very Good"

R: Hit First, Hit Harder Review


Although gritty and authentic, this Danish prison drama doesn't really have a new story to tell. Except perhaps that prisons in Denmark are just as grim and violent as those in any other country. Well, at least those that make prison dramas.

Young inmate Rune (Asbaek) is moved from a quiet ward to maximum security, now mixing with the big boys. On his first day, he has a run-in with the Mason (Moller), who threatens to rough him up unless he viciously beats up someone else. So he joins Mason's gang. Then he figures out an ingenious way to help Mason's cohort Carsten (Gredsted) move drugs around the prison, working with his yard pal Rashid (Al-Jabouri). This gives him some security until the next shoe drops.

In the final act, the film (and the title R) jarringly shifts to focus on Rashid and his struggle between survival, loyalty and his strong religious beliefs, which make him want to do the right thing, even if it means putting himself in danger. This strongly echoes in Rune's separate journey, as both of these young men are just trying to get through their few years in prison alive.

Asbaek and Al-Jabouri are terrific, developing a strong sense of camaraderie that adds a tiny glimmer of kindness in what's otherwise a relentlessly unpleasant movie. All of the actors are thoroughly believable as hardened inmates with their own secret society, willing to kill their closest confidant if needed. Meanwhile the guards (Winther and Beutnagel) are a little more complex, in that they sometimes seem to actually care about these guys, even as they turn a blind eye or humiliate them to make a point.

In other words, there isn't much we haven't seen on film or TV before. It's shot like a documentary, with glaring grey skies and creepy corners, which makes several moments even more horrific. And the tension between characters is uncomfortably harsh. In fact, only one scene captures the inmates' humanity: when they get their budgies to stage a football match. Watching the tiny birds escape from their cage and be recaptured by these smiling, happy thugs is the most telling moment in the film.



Facts and Figures

Genre: Foreign

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Cast & Crew

Director: Tobias Lindholm, Michael Noer

Producer: Rene Ezra, Tomas Radoor

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