BRAVE MEN’S BLOOD Review: A Satisfyingly Classic And Crisp Crime Story
There are too many movies. Thanks to release strategies that do not rely on big theatrical runs, it’s harder and harder to stay abreast of any given year’s releases. That's great news for lovers of varied, weird cinema, but it also means a large number of very good movies come and go without anyone ever noticing.
I worry that Brave Men’s Blood will be one of those films. A fairly typical crime film with no stars or gimmick to help single it out of the pack, Brave Men’s Blood relies solely on quiet quality, offering no more than an interesting (if familiar) story revolving around characters we learn to care about a great deal. This is the standard goal for all movies, of course, but even when a film succeeds, it’s often not enough to save it from total obscurity.
Brave Men’s Blood is actually a sequel to an even more obscure (outside of Iceland, anyway) film, City State. Lacking knowledge of that film shouldn’t keep you from watching or enjoying this one, however. Brave Men’s Blood intends to stand alone, and it does. But looking at the characters who were also in the previous film, and knowing where they end up in here, one might feel a little regret about not seeing City State first. Director Olaf de Fleur Johannesson does a great job introducing you to his cast without making you feel like you’ve missed something, but a whole film’s worth of time with them can't help but heighten your enjoyment of Brave Men’s Blood.
Initially, the story focuses on new Internal Affairs officer, Hennes, a man with a beautiful family and a father whose long shadow as a former cop makes him eager to prove himself. Almost immediately he gets that chance when a defeated former crime lord tells him of a turncoat high in the ranks of his police organization. With great gusto, he organizes a small team and gets to work. This, naturally, has severe consequences for everyone.
Instead of just focusing on this one perspective, Brave Men’s Blood frequently shifts focus onto villains, humanizing them to a degree that obliterates our ability to see them as just obstructions to our hero’s goals. Everyone has something at stake here. People do evil things, but no one intends to be the bad guy. It also means that no one can really win, nor can the movie have a traditional happy ending.
For a crime film, Brave Men’s Blood has surprisingly little violence. The bits that we do get hit hard, though, because we like and feel close to these characters. Johannesson is all about understatement and realism, and very little of the film draws attention to itself from a filmmaking standpoint. It grips you and keeps you interested throughout, all the way to the bitter end.