🇩🇰 DARKLAND 🇩🇰
DARKLAND aka Underverden (2017) is a Danish action, crime drama, thriller film available on Prime Video U.K. rent/buy. 1hr 52 min. 15 Cert U.K. Danish and Arabic with subtitles.
“A successful doctor who loses his little brother in a gang-related assault gives up his privileged life to become a masked warrior and avenge his brother’s death.” IMDb
Dar Salim as Zaid
Stine Fischer Christensen as Stine
Ali Sivani as Semion
Dulfi Al-Jabouri as Alex
Jacob Lohmann as Torben
Roland Møller as Claus
B. Branco as Branco
Anis Alobaidi as Yasin
Brian Siva as Hassan
Hamza Al-Jabouri as Zaid’s father
Amany Turk as Zaid’s mother
Magnus Bruun as Kollega
Maria Erwolter as Jordermoder
Amanda Collin as Amanda
Director: Fenar Ahmad
Writer: Fenar Ahmad & Adam August
Cinematographer: Kasper Tuxen
Sound: Peter Albrechtsen
Music: Jens Ole Wowk McCoy
Editing: Kasper Leick
Make-Up: Louise Hauberg
Special Effects: Hummer Højmark
Stunts: Anders Nylander Thomsen
Costume Designer: Rikke Simonsen
Dar Salim took kickboxing lessons for this role and was trained by Lars Mrusaa, the Danish National Kickboxing coach. The photo that appears in this film is of a younger Dar in his karate kit (he gained his black belt at 16!)
He also followed real heart surgeons in their daily routine and watched some real-life open heart surgery in preparation for this role.
Fenar Ahmad has said that his own brother getting into trouble inspired him to make this film.
Louise Hauberg’s make-up work can also be seen in productions such as A Hijacking, Riders of Justice, The Rain, Countdown Copenhagen and Summer of ‘92.
Kasper Tuxen was also the cinematographer for projects including The Worst Person in the World, Riders of Justice and Valhalla.
Kasper Leick was an editor for A Royal Affair, The Killing, Borgen, The Legacy etc.
Zaid is a heart surgeon in this film and I immediately thought of Baltasar Kormákur’s revenge movie The Oath. Link to review:
⚠️ This review contains some spoilers ⚠️
“Before you embark upon a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” Quote often attributed to Confucius
Revenge movies, we have all seen them, from Death Wish to Taken and so many in between. Personally, I am not a massive fan of a straight action movie that lacks character development – especially of the “hero” – any subtlety in motivation or how actions affect their mindset and, just as importantly, others in their orbit. Would this Danish movie, Darkland, win me over and have a balance of action (I do love to watch a good close-quarters fight) and psychology? Initially, however, this film attracted my eye because it has Dar Salim in the lead role!
Darkland opens with a bit of firm foundation setting for the story and characters. We learn that Zaid is a highly skilled heart surgeon and that his wife is pregnant with their first child, a boy. We see his younger brother visit him during a celebratory meal with friends desperately asking for help and money. It is from the point that his “little” brother dies after a vicious beating that the revenge begins.
It is no coincidence that Zaid is a heart surgeon, after all, he literally holds the power of life and death in his hands whilst the heart itself is the symbol for love, it is also what we harden when we are called to do difficult things which may be against our nature.
Parts of Darkland are fairly conventional in that we see Zaid realise (painfully) that he is not physically capable of hurting much more than a fly. With the help of old friends, he starts a tortuous process of kickboxing training and going on long stamina building runs. He even gets a friend of his brother’s involved, which we can later see builds into the lad becoming almost a brother substitute or at least a connection to him.
From this point, Zaid is driven to find the man responsible for his brother’s death (so far, so normal for a film in this genre) but we see far more of how his actions affect those around him, his relationships and his work (sometimes tragically). Needless to say, training at night and driving around beating people up is not conducive to a healthy relationship with a pregnant partner!
Zaid’s motivations are more nuanced than pure revenge though, it is very much about the guilt he feels. The guilt that he turned his brother away when he asked for help, the guilt that he has little contact with his mother and father and is seen as an outsider, “a white man”, back in the community from which he has “escaped”. We see more of his family, a father who in his mind has never really moved to Denmark and a mother who is distraught at what has happened to her younger son. I was left with sadness of what she would be feeling at the end of all this…
There is a scene where the baddie encounters Zaid at a restaurant and forcefully tells him about his lack of contact with the Iraqi community and his own family. How it must hurt to have your brother’s murderer tell you some painful home truths (he’s a bad man but that does not invalidate everything he says).
Another important feature of Darkland is how the police are portrayed, which quite frankly is not very flattering but seems all too real. They are dismissive of his brother’s brutal murder and the officer cannot even make the effort to learn Zaid’s name! It is their mishandling and general attitude that makes Zaid take matters into his own hands. The icing on the cake for me was the rant to Zaid by the detective saying (paraphrasing) “Why can’t you people control your kids so that they don’t all become criminals”. This is to a man who came from that background and is a doctor, a heart surgeon! I mean, how tone-deaf can a police officer be? And yet, at the very end, there they are. The strong impression is that they don’t care while “gangsters” are killing other gangsters.
I loved the action scenes in this film! The fight sequences are realistic and well-choreographed and you can definitely see how Dar Salim’s training paid off. The fights have a lot of fast movements and the choreography is interesting and is, for the most part, unpredictable. I would recommend watching with reduced ambient light as quite a lot of the action is at night. On the action side, this film does not disappoint.
The colour palettes are effective, the night-time scenes are beautifully lit and the camerawork itself is very impressive indeed. Some of the locations are just sublime (I would happily live in that apartment block where Zaid and his wife have a flat, no wonder Alex is so impressed!)
Editors are the mostly unsung heroes of the world of TV and film with the power to make or break a production at their fingertips. The editing of this film is truly excellent and a massive shout out to the editor, Kasper Leick.
The costuming and make-up for Darkland are both fabulous especially the kit that Zaid wears on a mission and the injury details. The motorbike is so Batman without the unrealistic wheels etc.
We see events spiral away from Zaid, mostly because he is focused solely upon seeking revenge and is disregarding everything else. It is no surprise that he fulfils his desire for revenge but the oh so bitter twists at the end… Can we sympathise with Zaid? Is it acceptable to turn vigilante? Was it worth all it in the end? Is he the hero of this story? Is he solely to blame for what happens?
“Revenge is the raging fire that consumes the arsonist.” Max Lucado
For anyone wanting a pure action movie with unrelenting pace, little character development, nuance or any social commentary then I think this is not the film for you. If however, you are looking for a film with a charismatic and believable protagonist, a story that challenges and leaves you with something to think about then Darkland should fit the bill nicely. Recommended.
6 wins and 19 nominations
Bodil Awards (2018) Best Screenplay ~ Adam August & Fenar Ahmad; Streaming Award ~ Fenar Ahmad
Danish Film Awards (Robert, 2018) Best Editing ~ Kasper Leick; Best Original Score ~ Jens Ole Wowk McCoy
Zulu Awards (2018) Best Film ~ Fenar Ahmad; Best Actor ~ Dar Salim
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