Fantastic Fest 2014 Review: TOMMY, A Gripping Nordic Noir About Dames
The latest in a string of stylish crime thrillers to emerge from Scandinavia, Tommy is the new film from Swedish director Tarik Saleh, and offers a blistering change of pace to 2009's animated sci-fi odyssey Metropia.
A daring airport robbery and 4 million Euros in swag proves the catalyst for an intricately played tale of deception and betrayal in the wintry climes of Swedish capital Stockholm over the Christmas holidays.
Mob wife Estelle (Moa Gammel) returns to Sweden from Sri Lanka, determined to collect her husband Tommy's share of the loot. Feared throughout the city, Tommy is rumoured to be dead, and suspicions grow when Estelle is stopped bringing what appears to be an urn of ashes into the country. With another of the gang already murdered and the police breathing down her neck, Estelle looks to the surviving members of the gang for her cut. But getting paid is not going to be that simple.
With Tommy out of the picture, Bobby (Ola Rapace) has moved into his turf, antagonising not only Estelle but their other partner in crime, Steve (Johan Rabaeus). With a full-scale turf war about to kick off, Estelle must convince Bobby and Steve that Tommy is on his way home to collect, and that they better cough up his share before he returns. Trading on Steve's not-so-secret feelings for her, Estelle puts the squeeze on Bobby, only to discover her younger sister, Blanca (Lykke Li) is now sleeping with him.
What immediately sets Tommy apart from other gangster films, or other recent "Nordic Noir" offerings, is that it isn't so interested in the violent, greedy men as it is with the women trapped by their side. Estelle's mother is also a lifelong gangster's moll, whose primary concern is for the safety of her granddaughter - still too young to fully understand the environment in which she lives. Estelle is desperate to escape and give her daughter a clean slate, but to do so she must successfully manipulate these monsters that surround her.
This unique perspective does not mean that audiences miss out on the action and violence of the gangster genre. Saleh knows what is expected of him by his audience, and we bear witness to all manner of horrific sequences, including an interrogation scene that will change the way you look at your stove forever. Steve in particular, proves a spine-chilling adversary, whom Estelle must negotiate using only her wit and ingenuity. And at no point during the film is her safety - or that of her daughter, sister or mother - guaranteed.
Saleh makes great use of music throughout the film, from the foreboding employment of Enya's Boadicea in the opening moments (a song named after the legendary warrior-queen), to a number of yuletide classics. Each time he skewers our preconceptions, however, through seemingly inappropriate - yet damn effective - implementation.
Saleh also draws excellent performances from all his cast members. Moa Gammel carries the weight of the film on her shoulders, and while Estelle is clearly a resilient and long-suffering woman, she is far from a fighter. The more we see Steve (chillingly portrayed by Johan Rabaeus) and Bobby (Skyfall's Ola Rapace - ex-husband of Noomi) brutalise their opponents for information and material gain, the more Estelle appears vulnerable. That Gammel is able to portray that fragility, while simultaneously convincing us she is capable of standing up to these barbaric hoodlums, is the key to the film's success.
Tommy more than delivers its quota of violent action, dramatic tension and revelatory plot twists, but by putting the narrative into the hands of a family of women, there is somehow more at stake. These women are victims of circumstance, trapped in long-suffering violent relationships from which there is no escape. There are occasional gifts and fancy nights out, but they come with brutality, insecurity and fear.
Where Tommy excels is by not pitying these women, but enabling them. Estelle has a plan, she is beautiful, well-respected and determined, and believes that if she stays the course, she can negotiate this minefield of testosterone and blood, and earn her freedom. That journey makes for a tense, hellish and breathlessly thrilling ride.