Dir:Baltasar Kormakur. Ice. 2005. 98mins.
For his latest feature A Little Trip To Heaven,Icelandic film-maker Baltasar Kormakur takes audiences on a modest littleadventure in the other direction as well and the familiar hellish genre of themodern neo-noir. This time however the focus is not on some disaffected,world-weary flatfoot and his cheating, ultra-treacherous woman, but on a humbleinsurance claims investigator, wonderfully played by Forest Whitaker, and thepeople who are trying to pull the wool over his eyes.
Ifit never quite reaches the heights of, say, the Coen Brothers' Blood Simple,the supreme model of this particular branch of the genre, then A Little TripTo Heaven remains eminently watchable and may do well in countries,especially in Europe, that harbour a special fondness for its type.
Holt(Whitaker) is sent out from the home office of the insurance company he worksfor to investigate a million-dollar claim. When the stakes are that high, itappears, people tend to cheat - and Holt is the man who is supposed to catchthem.
Thebeneficiaries are Isold (Stiles) and Fred (Renner) and the more or less(purposely) by-the-numbers plot is stoked from time to time with the requisitetwists and turns (though it must be admitted that they are of a rather modestsort).
Theplot remains murky for an unconscionably long time, only coming into focus inthe film's second half, and the logic of Holt's investigation could be cleareras well: narrative tension could also have been cast at a higher pitch. Thedialogue is generic (in both the good and bad senses) and not always all thatinspired.
Otherwiseit's all an aficionado could want: the supersaturated colour, the overwhelmingdarkness that covers the land and men's souls, rain, a certain kind of music,betrayal, and sudden death.
Kormakurgets a little greedy near the end and tries to transcend his rule-bound talewith a kind of half-baked political attack on the soullessness of insurancecompanies.
Butaudiences who like this kind of film already know about all that, and it justmuddies the waters of this otherwise perfectly serviceable generic exercise.
Kormakurhad the excellent idea of casting Whitaker and then giving him a broadupper-Midwestern accent strongly reminiscent of the one sported by MargeGunderson in Fargo, which may even constitute a bit of an homage to themasterly Coens.
There'ssomething powerful if wisely unspoken about this black face amid so manytroubled white people, and the accent only reinforces the purposefully jarringnote.
Holt'scharacter is friendly yet insistent, and hard-bitten when he needs to be, yet stillhas time to flop down in the newly fallen snow and make snow angels for a youngboy he encounters.
Stilesis dangerously sexy, as she must be for a part like this, and yet as fiercelyprotective of the same young boy, her son, as a vicious animal.
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Edward Martin Weinman