Wild Men: Review

Wild Men: Review

Insincerity breeds impotence – that’s what director Thomas Daneskov’s forest-fumbling crime caper Wild Men wants you to know, with its ensemble of flawed men who would rather quietly destroy themselves living a lie or escape to the bloody mountains instead of, you know, talking to someone. Over a taut 90-ish minutes, this subdued comedy takes a broad look at the fragile masculinity of the modern middle class, and if it doesn’t exactly deliver searing satire, it makes for an enjoyable, thoughtful watch. 

Business drone Martin is camped in the Norwegian mountains, dressed in a shag pile of animal furs, and he’s crying; he’s just left his young, happy family without warning to escape the grind and return to a simpler life as a hunter/gatherer. However, the only animals he can hunt are poisonous frogs, and he’s quickly gathering the attention of local law enforcement after he “robs” a petrol station out of desperation. So when he comes across Musa, an injured traveller with a dangerous background, the two must evade the police as they seek refuge in Guddalen, where people live communally without the trappings of modern life. But will their lies destroy them? And what will Martin’s wife think?

The need for escape is a commonly explored, essential theme in cinema, and Wild Men draws from that great well; from the opening sequences mirroring Wenders’ wanderer in Paris, Texas to the similarities of setting and tone that can be found in Taika Waititi’s adventure Hunt For The Wilderpeople, the film does not shy from comparison. A trio of wonderful tragicomic performances serve as the heart that drives these concerns, namely Rasum Bjerg as Martin and Zaki Youssef as Musa delivering great comedic work individually and together, with Bjerg’s jolly, impulsive effort bringing the majority of the laughs. But it is Bjørn Sundquist’s ageing police chief Øyvind who is the film’s moral compass, navigating through the remnants of his life after the loss of a loved one. Like Tommy Lee Jones in No Country For Old Men, his time has passed and he can no longer make amends, but at least Øyvind can help those following his path before it’s too late.     

It’s also worth noting that the harshness of the wilderness has always been used by filmmakers to draw a deeper truth out of their characters, and here it is used to great effect, as wide vistas of Norwegian forests and rivers oppress Martin with their scope just as much as his limited white collar world did. Daneskov also does well to reflect the insincerity of his main players in the visuals, shooting the film as if a serious Scandi-noir, with cold, harshly lit images of isolated, pensive men and handheld procedural sequences underscoring the silly humour of Martin and Musa’s plight. But much as Martin learns with his attempts at cosplaying as a mountain man, it’s all fun and games until it’s suddenly very serious; cleverly, the tone of the film eventually catches up with the cinematography choices, and the film too begins to live “truthfully”.

Questions are often raised about true masculinity – what is it? When does it become toxic? Wild Men has a crack at these questions – masculinity is true honesty and authenticity, becoming something unsavoury when we hide our true nature from others and ourselves. Solitude can be troublesome and evasive, while community can suffocate, but no matter what we must be true, and we mustn’t shield that from others. It is then that we can be content. And the only one who seems happy with their lot in life and can actually enjoy their free time? The police dog of course – as we find out, the events of the film occur on his day off, doing “dog things”. If only we could all be so sincere. 

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Daniel is a Sydney-based writer and filmmaker. He likes to think of himself as a man of letters - mostly of the furious, "to the editor" variety.


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