Dir: Oskar Thor Axelsson. 2012. Iceland. 100mins


Based around real events, Black’s Game tells the story of how Iceland’s drug trade went from a bunch of rival gangs in the 1990s to an organised and professional industry as the millennium turned. Executive produced by Nicolas Winding Refn and Hostel producer Chris Briggs, Oskar Thor Axelsson’s film is as violent and mired in brutality as its pedigree would suggest but also possesses a slick storytelling style that borrows from Ted Demme’s Blow, Guy Ritchie’s Snatch and Jonas Akerlund’s Spun.

Black’s Game should find play as a midnight item.

For all its style, Black’s Game doesn’t offer much new to the genre of drug trade movies which follow the same pattern of showing the rise and inevitable fall into addiction and betrayal of the crooks involved. The Icelandic setting offers some novelty, but ultimately not enough in differentiating the picture from others in the well-worn genre.

Black’s Game played in the Tiger competition at Rotterdam and should find play as a midnight item in other festivals; sales at the Berlinale were active, with deals closed in Germany and Benelux among other territories.

The film takes the point of view of a student called Stebbi (Thorvaldur David Kristjansson) who gets roped into the drug business when he comes across an old school friend called Toti (Johannes Haukur Johannesson) and quits his studies for an easy life in Toti’s gang.

Things get more serious when the menacing Bruno (Damon Younger) comes back onto the scene and takes over all the warring gangs, creating new sophisticated systems for bringing drugs in and out of the country. Stebbi (aka “Stebbi Psycho”) is part of the inner circle but becomes increasingly dependent on cocaine and paranoid about the political machinations going on in the organisation. In one of the film’s most disturbing sequences, Bruno makes sure he knows his place by brutally raping him.

As the police net closes around the operation, Stebbi is approached to be an informer but realises that someone else is already tipping off the police from the inside. Maria Birta plays Dagny, the seductive dealer who moves enigmatically between Stebbi, Bruno and Toti.

Production companies: Zik Zak Filmworks, Filmus

International sales: TrustNordisk, www.trustnordisk.com

Executive producers: Nicolas Winding Refn, Chris Briggs

Producers: Thor S Sigurjonsson, Skuli Fr Malmquist, Arnar Knutsson

Screenplay: Oskar Thor Axelsson

Cinematography: Bergsteinn Bjorgulfsson

Editor: Kristjan Lodmfjord

Main cast: Thorvaldur David Kristjansson, Johannes Haukur Johannesson, Damon Younger, Maria Birta