A rogue undercover cop pursues a muddle-head path towards redemption in URO, a solidly commercial first feature from Stefan Faldbakken. Familiarity hasn't blunted the appeal of a character type that has been a fixture of police thrillers from the glory days of Sidney Lumet through to the more recent Infernal Affairs trilogy.
Faldbakken's Norwegian variation on the theme is a more humble affair but the handling is sufficiently dynamic to involve the viewer and suggest theatrical potential in territories that have responded to such recent European crime stories as 36 Quai Des Orfevres or the Pusher trilogy. The film premiered at Cannes in Un Certain Regard.
Like 36, URO has some basis in real events and takes its title from the name of an elite undercover task force established as part of Norway's zero tolerance policy towards drugs.
Hans Petter (Nicolai Cleve Broch) is a zealous, undisciplined young officer who is out to impress. A lone wolf rather than a team player, he has a fierce determination to erase the lingering traces of a wayward past. There are several scenes in a precinct gym as he lifts weights and pounds the treadmill with a steely resolve. We learn that his mother is an alcoholic and his father committed suicide.
One night, he meets former schoolfriend Mette (Ane Dahl Torp) who now manages her father's club Front. Drugs are rife in the hangout and he realises that their friendship provides a level of trust that will gain him easy access to dealer Marco (Ahmed Zeyan) and his suppliers. Without informing any colleagues, he embarks on a course of action that leaves him fatally compromised.
Although Petter's back story may seem a little too pat and formulaic, his moral quandaries and intemperate actions make him a compelling, unheroic character. Here is a man digging himself into a bigger and bigger hole in the mistaken belief that the end will justify the means. His violent, self-destructive actions and apparent inability to take sides should place him beyond our compassion and yet he remains sympathetic.
The colour palette of steely blues and muddy browns suggests that cinematographer John Adreas Andersen is familiar with the films of Michael Mann but this is not as sleek and polished as the Heat director's work in the genre. Instead, whips, pans and handheld camerawork are all used to enhance the immediacy of the piece and provide a naturalistic feel to the story.
Nicolai Cleve Broch's understated performance also strives towards a realistic pitch. The level of anger that fuels his character is largely suppressed only emerging in outbursts that are savage enough to know the demons that rage within him. The role provides a strong showcase for the young theatre and television actor who remains best known for the romantic comedy Buddy (2003).
The film's emotional impact could have been enhanced by a more extensive exploration of the relationship with Petter's mother or his immediate police superior but that would have required the broader canvas of a Mann or Scorsese epic. URO is working on a different scale but it does so efficiently.
Rezo Films International
Christian Fredrik Martin
Harald Roselow Eeg
John Andreas Andersen
Jack van Domburg
Nicolai Cleve Broch
Ane Dahl Torp
Ingar Helge Gimie