Polar, the latest film release from Netflix is not garnering the praise of forerunners like Roma and Bird Box (though why the latter is so praised I cannot understand). Instead, this film based on a Graphic Novel has been roundly slated (it has a 16% rating on Rotten Tomatoes) and sadly its right to have been. I say sadly because there are elements of the film that are well done, but other parts are just ridiculous. Simply put, it’s a film with a split personality.
Mads Mikkelsen plays the retiring hitman Duncan. Known professionally as The Black Kaiser (in the Graphic Novel his name is Kaiser Black, a far better name in my opinion), his former employer, an assassination business called Damocles, wants him dead so they can avoid paying him an $8million pension payout and sell the company. Even over the issue of the characters name the film is confused. The name Black Kaiser is meant to illicit fear and reverence, but during the course of the film is used only sparingly, most of the time he’s called Duncan by all parties. If you’re going to do this, then what’s the point of having the other name, especially as the lack of its use takes away the power it’s meant to convey?
But really the film’s split personality is due to the styles the two threads of the story are shot in. The story ark has Mads Mikkelsen (who at certain angles looks like a retired Tom of Finland model thanks to the moustache) in his snow covered retirement cabin on the edge of a sleepy town in the hills. Something of a loaner wanting to keep to himself and find peace, he befriends his new neighbour, a young woman (Vanessa Hudgens) clearly scarred by something in her past and looking for peace. The two seem well suited, she has difficulty looking people in the eye and jumps at loud sounds and sudden movement, while Duncan is also haunted by his past, constantly reliving a particular moment of a hit he carried out yers earlier every time he tries to sleep. The two quietly bond and seem to find some peace in their kindred souls. This slow moving quiet thread of the film is big screen Nordic Noir and contains everything good and interesting in the film – from the storyline to the acting and the style of filming.
Sadly it’s the second thread that drags the film down to the depths that it achieves. This thread is the Damocles trying to kill Duncan thread. The concept of a retired hitman having a hit put on him and him having to come out of retirement to stop it isn’t exactly new. At least it’s inclusion isn’t thanks to a lack of imagination, but because it’s the plot of the source material for the film. The problem is that this plot line, if removed, would make the film ten times better. For some reason, instead of carrying on the Nordic Noir style, whenever the film cuts to the Damocles story line the film swaps to a more comic book style, not unakin to that used in the Kick Ass films, with brightly coloured and different font names with sound effects being slapped onto the screen. This is to say nothing of this part pot line, it’s just so thin and stretched out.
It’s not till one hour ten minutes into the film (with only 48 minutes to go and that includes credits) that they track Duncan down and the two strands of the film combine into a more bog standard film. Vanessa Hudgens’s character is kidnapped by Damocles and Duncan goes off to rescue her and eliminate them. Unsurprisingly the level of blood and guts goes up a few gears to the point where Duncan must be a medical marvel to be alive and kicking by the end of it all. In one neat fell swoop Duncan eliminates all of Damocles. Thankfully this doesn’t bring an end to the film, instead we get to return to the Nordic Noir plot line back in the snow. I shall say no more about the ending as to do so would spoil it.
If Netflix had stripped out the Damocles thread, the film would have been only an hour long, but they would have been able to explore and develop the good strand of the film in the way it was crying out for and lacked due to time being needed for the Damocles plot. The ending sets up for a second film, a film that is unlikely to come given the general response to this first one. Instead if they had reduced the length and stuck to the decent half of the film, they could have built a popular short form series of one hour to ninety minute episodes instead.
London Lamppost Rating(2.8 / 5)
Feature Image courtesy of Netflix