Friday, 21 June 2013


When I wrote about the Danish film A Hijacking I suggested that the theme of business ethics and its relation to social morality was part of many recent Scandinavian films, among them Exit. In A Hijacking the conflict was between a businessman's social responsibility to the crew of his vessel and his ingrained desire to 'win' the negotiation. As it happened, I had just seen Exit earlier the same day at the Nordicana festival, and though the two films weren't part of a double-feature, the connection was obvious.

Exit begins Mads Mikklesen explaining, in voice-over, how negotiating is all about knowing your opponent's weakness, and that every opponent has one. The movie opens with Mikklesen, as Thomas Skepphult, and his partner in a firm called Nova Investment forcing out the man whose family's firm it had been, because he has done something that crossed their ethical boundary while completing a deal with another firm. The ousted man, Morgan Nordenstrole, goes back to his office and blows his head off with a shotgun.

Seven years later, Nova is trying to exit that deal, and cash in their profits, but another investor, the super slick Gabriel Mork, holds them to ransom on theexit. At the same time, Thomas' mentor and partner, Wilhelm, announces he wants to retire, and shows Thomas a hidden compartment in his safe, in which is a tape which Thomas believed had been destroyed. That night, Wilhelm is murdered, and because his death would save Thomas millions on the price of buying him out, Thomas becomes the top suspect and is arrested. But while trying to contact his lawyer, someone else gets on the line, and Thomas realises he's been set up, and nothing is as it seems.

On the one hand, Exit is a complicated, sometimes repetitive, innocent man on the run film, in the tradition of Tell No One or Headhunters, and it wouldn't surprise me if it hadn't hadn't provided some inspiration for Jo Nesbo's tale. As with the Harlan Coben novel (and the French film) Thomas is lucky to have a professional to call upon for help, in his case a cousin who is some sort of security operative, and helped also by the insane incompetence of the Swedish police. Detective Malm, played with a wonderful sneer of suspicion by Ia Langhammer, has decided the case from the first, and after that point, no amount of killing, shooting, fire, or kidnap can distract the cops' attention. Which is great if you're an accused murderer on the run. Especially one played by Mikklesen, who is fast becoming the most sado-masochistic character in movies: public-school boy perverse torturing James Bond (and getting his come-uppins, so to speak) in Casino Royale, getting beaten to a pulp more here than in The Hunt, bloodier than Valhalla Rising.

It also never seems to occur to the police to see whether Thomas is still running his business, which he is trying to do using his assistant Fabian von Klerking as a go-between. Eventually Fabian (Alexander Skarsgard) has to go to Mork (whose name, at least in English, suggests murk and angel at the same time; John Rabaeus, playing him, is excellent, and looks a bit like a classier version of William Forsythe) and Mork, it turns out, did the nasty to Fabian's father. But he overcomes his distaste out of loyalty to Thomas, and this impresses Mork. It also suggests that there is something about the aristocracy, the old Sweden, as signaled by Fabian, that is not only worth admiring but has been lost. Although I was wondering if the burned out 'P' in the 'Prince' sign in the inevitable seedy bar Thomas is forced to visit was some sort of comment on the Swedish royal family.

As I said, the plot involves some repetition (here review imitates life), and a good deal of twisting. Thomas repeats the same sort of gambit a few times, and indeed there are two escapes via powerboat, which is stretching it for any movie not set in Hong Kong. Questions of loyalty and trust are paramount, from Wilhelm's wife Louise, to Thomas' own wife Anna (played with some relish by Kirsti Eline Torhaug). Samuel Froler is excellent as the psychopathic villain, and even better is his henchman Ahmed (Hassan Brijay) who might have walked out of one of the Pusher films

Which is one of the strongest points of Exit. At times it has that grainy darkness of 70s American crime films, and which the Pusher films share, but it is also very carefully one of the most noirish films to come from the sadly misnamed Nordic Noir pantheon. It is exceedingly dark and shadowy, and for most of the film the only light comes in scenes set in Thomas' home, where the sunlight streams in over water and through picture windows. But mostly it takes place in places where natural light never shines, or at night, or both, and that sets the mood. When the film reaches its visceral climax, it's full-scale Fall of the House Of Usher, which I found symbolic. Director Peter Lindmark has a nice visual command which helps give depth to what otherwise would be just a pacy thriller with a few too many longeurs. And when the ultimate betrayal is revealed in the final twist, it too is a shadowy picture in a reflection of a dark room. It doesn't get more noirish than that.

Exit is available on DVD from Arrow Films on 8 July

Note: This review will also appear at Crime Time (

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