When petty criminal Stebbi (Thor Kristjansson) does a favour for childhood friend Tóti (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson), the two are drawn into the fold of a well-organized but violent gang intent on taking over Iceland’s bustling drug trade. Nicknamed “Psycho” after almost beating a man to death during a drug retrieval operation, Stebbi quickly moves up in the organization as he helps strong-arm the current complacent kingpins off the streets of Reykjavik. Basking in the cash influx and the romantic attentions on the gang’s coke-addled female member Dagný (María Birta), Stebbi’s world nevertheless begins to fall apart when Tóti starts doing business with Bruno (Damon Younger), a sadistic underworld figure who disrupts the gang’s well-planned activities with needlessly risky crimes and violent reprisals against anyone who disagrees with his methods. When Stebbi is contacted by a special police unit that reveals they have been tracking his every movement for months, he must decide whether to betray his dangerous new friends and risk Bruno’s wrath or spend the rest of his life in jail.
“Based on some shit that actually happened,” reads the opening title card to this slickly produced and fast-paced Scandinavian crime movie. Set in 1999 on the eve of the biggest drug bust in the country’s history, Oskar Thor Axelsson’s debut feature quickly became one of Iceland’s most profitable movies ever made. Channeling flashes of Goodfellas and Pulp Fiction as well as the classic Danish trilogy Pusher (whose director, Nicolas Refn, serves as Axelsson’s executive producer), Black’s Game delves into the distinctive challenges of Iceland’s close-knit criminal community, from bank robbers to smugglers to junkies and enforcers as they struggle for existence.
Amongst the film’s sprawling cast, Damon Younger is particularly demonic as the unstable and unpredictable Bruno, whose every decision seems poised to send the gang into chaos. Still, the film really belongs to Thor Kristjansson’s tragic portrayal of Stebbi, who takes viewers on a paranoid, drug-fueled journey through Reykjavic’s dance clubs, backalleys and abandoned factories as he finds himself increasingly unable to extract himself from the bloody power struggle unfolding before his eyes. Dripping with brutality and fin-de-siècle atmosphere, this is a game in which there are far more losers than winners, but it’s still well worth playing.
BLACK’S GAME has its North American Premiere on August 1 at 9:45pm in the Hall Theatre. More info on the film page HERE.