I caught a preview of Jar City yesterday, an Icelandic thriller based on Arnaldur Indridason’s novel of the same name. I haven’t read the novel, so I can’t judge how closely or otherwise the filmmakers based their story on the source material, but I’d be very surprised if Indridason’s fans were disappointed. I loved it.
It’s a gritty, bleak story set against a barren and blasted backdrop, in which the investigation of a murder unravels a complex web of corruption, blackmail and unsolved killings. It’s a multi-layered piece, in which themes are gently teased out as a number of stories run parallel to one another, most of them centring on the character of Detective Erlendur, played by a laconic Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson. Father-daughter relationships play a prominent part, and provide the obvious emotional engagement for the audience, but there’s quite a lot happening here that is more subtly achieved. Not least is the use of natural light – or the artifice that persuades us that natural light is used – to give the impression the entire country is smothered with gloomy foreboding.
Bergsteinn Björgúlfsson’s camerawork is superb, and Iceland – or the parts of it used here – looks achingly beautiful. The cast is uniformly good, with Sigurðsson outstanding, and the director, Baltasar Kormákur, maintains a pleasingly downbeat tone right up the very end, when things unfortunately turn disappointingly formulaic. Nevertheless, this is for the most part a terrific crime thriller, and a wonderful advertisement for Icelandic cinema.
“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.