Don’t Mess with the Johan

For those action fans yearning for new rollercoaster ride thrills, suspense and over-the-top violence – cleverly and insidiously mixed in with a sobering dose of political dogma – click on to the MHz site, and order your copy of the recently released DVD collection THE JOHAN FALK TRILOGY.

The long on-going Swedish big-screen series has been chronicling the adventures of (occasional) rogue cop Falk for decades.  The trilogy, presented to us Yanks, spans 1999-2003, and likely offers the best of the dubious hero’s exploits.

The direction (by Anders Nilsson, from his original idea) and writing (by Nilsson and Joakim Hansson) seems to have taken much of its moxie from Dirty Harry (the first one, anyway); even one of the villains (like the Andy Robinson/Scorpio character) pays a sadist to rough him up and blame his nemesis.

Back to basics, Falk is a top detective for the Swedish Gothenburg force who is repulsed by the grueling, often ineffective, “law abiding” methods of so-called democracy.  He’s openly called a fascist by his superiors and co-workers, and scoffs at them with a facial response that exudes, “Yeah, but I’m a good fascist.”  The trilogy opens with a bang, literally:  a Christmas Eve massacre.  It’s a crucial installment, as it introduces Falk to Helene, the woman (Marie Richardson) who is to share his life (and a witness to the killings).  Her young daughter, Nina (Hanna Alsterlund), will likewise play a major role in the Falk dramas.

While many action buffs might cringe at movies requiring subtitles, I insist they check FALK out before condemning this superior dose of cinematic adrenalin in favor of the lame, lackluster CGI, mindless U.S. equivalents.

That said, it’s sort of embarrassing to see the Euro take on America (the triad of FALK pictures in this set were primarily shot during the Bush-Cheney years).  For example, when the high-profile crooks and psychopaths meet to palaver plans (or sit down for a parlay with law enforcement), they do so in Americanized English.  When the most repellent of depraved corruption is uncovered or discussed, the assessment is along the lines of “you mean, like in America.”  Further digs are the global commercialization of our crass influence on cultures.  The visual highpoint (or lowpoint) of this are the picturesque Swedish town landscapes dotted by McDonald’s and Burger King franchises.

And, yes, each one of the three features stands alone, but is connected by the narrative thread of the Three Waves.  Basically, this entails drug/prostitution/extortion cartels (often from post-Glasnost sources) laundering money by buying into legit businesses and then using that capital to purchase banks.  Thus, all money is simultaneously illegal-legal and untraceable.  Ultimately, this means that crime syndicates will own the world.  Frightening, but, these days, not so ridiculous, particularly the part about buying politicians not on a local level, but on a…never mind.  Perhaps the most unnerving part of the JOHAN FALK movies is the fact that they derive from real-life cases (horrifically brought home when recurring characters are systematically liquidated in heinous fashion).

Falk, himself, as terrifically enacted by Jakob Eklund, is not a likeable character (he’s kinda like a millennium Sergeant Kroft from Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead, a nasty individual to be sure, but the dude you want in your corner when the shit is up to your chin).  But is he, as the man himself implies, a necessary evil?  There is a fascinating sidebar on Swedish law enforcement.  After unwittingly playing a part in the aforementioned Yuletide carnage, the heads of the force, rather than questioning/reprimanding the cop, are far more concerned with his mental state, and first and foremost, insist he speak with psychiatric professionals.  Falk responds by going through the motions (but, natch, instead of taking his ordered rest, he hits the streets to capture the escaped killer.

The movies are shot in a stylized, garish manner, rife with available light grain (in dark interiors) and nighttime photography, but frequently breathtaking in their depiction of day exteriors of the stunning countryside.  The first two FALK pics are in standard European 1.66:1 widescreen (by d.p.s Jacob Jorgensen and Per-Arne Svenson), the last in 2.40:1 scope (Svenson).  And, I must underline that the FALK movies are not low-budget entries; they are top-line productions, filmed throughout stunning Scandinavian locations, plus forays to France, Germany, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and the UK.

The music is appropriate to the jarring visuals, ably composed by Bengt Nilsson.  Furthermore, all three FALK pics exhibit extraordinary stereo-surround recording and audio effects.  They really will give your home vid set-up a taste of movie theater sound (my only complaint is that MHz titles are not available in Blu-Ray).

The trio of exemplary thrillers that comprise THE JOHAN FALK TRILOGY include:

Zero Tolerance (1999), the one with the Santa Sangre murders; the one where Falk meets the love of his life; the one where a respected and affluent restaurateur is actually a ruthless sociopath (Peter Andersson) with a lust for torture and murder.  His stalking and terrorizing the three witnesses to the crime becomes a personal vendetta for Falk (specifically as his new paramour is among the targeted victims).

Executive Protection (2001) is my favorite in the series.  It is the first time we’re introduced to the Three Waves theory, but, more importantly, it presents us cineastes with one of the creepiest criminals in flicker history.  When friends of Falk are being threatened by local thugs, they contact a respected security organization to safeguard them.  The company’s soft-spoken, intellectual head, Nikolaus Lehmann (Christoph M. Ohrt), is a former STASI operative, so they think they’re in good hands.  Attending a meeting between the factions, the factory execs are aghast when Lehmann’s negotiating tactics encompass annihilating the entire gang.  He then threatens his new employers – pay up a ransom and turn over a piece of your organization, or suffer similar consequences.  Enter Falk, recently placed on desk duty after the Xmas episode.  His disgust with his “punishment” prompts him to leave the force, and join up with another connection (a legitimate security brigade), which brings him back to his hometown roots and news of his friend’s lethal predicament.  This is a nail-biting excursion into pure, ice-cold evil.  The harrowing ending is both satisfying, yet disturbing.

2003’s The Third Wave has Falk, now “retired” to the countryside with Helene and (now teenaged) Nina.  His old boss Sellberg (Lennart Hjulstrom) has been chosen to head an international crime unit, out to infiltrate and break up the Third Wave bankers.  A super successful Swedish expat (Irina Bjorklund), now living in London with her equally powerful boyfriend (Ben Pullen), accidentally uncovers some sinister truths about her lover, which forces him to contract her murder.  How the crime unit, Falk and the woman intertwine is a primer on modern corporate greed, in addition to exciting filmmaking.

In the face of recent U.S. political events (prophetically hinted in the FALK pics), these movies transcend mere entertainment.  Is the “good fascist” our only solution for a democratic future?

THE JOHAN FALK TRILOGY.  Color. Widescreen [Zero Tolerance, Executive Protection: 1.66:1; The Third Wave: 2.40:1; all 16 x 9 anamorphic]; 2.0 stereo-surround.  MHz Networks/International Mystery Collection/Sonet Film.  CAT # SKU-16771.  SRP:  $29.96.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s