Written by: Tine Krull Petersen
Directed by: Christian E. Christiansen
Starring: Tuva Novotny, Flemming Enevold, and Carsten BjÝrnlund
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
Life is what you make it--if you make it out alive.
Itís interesting to see what certain regions gravitate towards cinematically. For the past decade, South Koreaís been particularly enamored with vengeful guys and gals beating the crap out of each other, while other parts of the Orient have been fixated on wet-haired ghost girls. Apparently, thrillers have been a big deal in Scandinavia in the wake of Stieg Larssonís Millennium Series, so its bookshelves and movie theaters have been clogged with twisty, crime-ridden mysteries full of sex and violence. Christian E. Christiansenís curiously titled ID:A is another one of these, and I mean that literally: while itís shaded by some neo-noir stylings, itís a rote, mechanical offering in this tradition whose lack of ingenuity is at least well compensated by its competence. In short, itís fine but slight, especially when compared to its contemporaries.
When a woman (Tuva Novotny) awakens in a French river carrying a bag full of money but no memory of who she is or how she came into possession of it, she begins to traverse the nearby town for clues. She checks into a motel, where the owners (a mother-son duo) begin to suspect that this woman isnít even French, despite her fluency in the language. Eventually, she deduces that sheís actually Danish, so she boards a bus back to her home country, where a fellow passenger just happens to be listening to a singer (Flemming Enevold) whose songs jog her memory. Upon returning home, she discovers that sheís actually married to the famous Just Ore and lives a life of luxuryóor so it seems. Thanks to her husband and siblings, sheís also become wrapped up in a shady plot involving a militant group of political idealists that are now out to kill her.
ID:A is a particular subset of this sort of film in that itís an amnesia thriller, and itís that conceit that leads to so much wheel-spinning here. As the first half of the film unfolds, the woman (whose name is eventually revealed to be Ida) relies on a heavy dose of coincidence and exposition. For whatever reason, no one questions her bizarre behavior and are perfectly willing to be exposition machines, which renders our heroine passive during her detective work. Maybe it would read well on paper, but itís hardly the most cinematic procedural. A spark of life comes about midway through with a twist that turns things on its head a bit, but, even then, the script resorts to a hackneyed device that has Ida suddenly recover her memory for an extended flashback.
As such, the second half of the film is more straightforward and drops the amnesia crutch, which is just as well. Even though that framing device can provide a natural intrigue, itís hardly well-used, so the proceedings are a bit livelier when ID:A becomes a straight crime drama with some requisite action beats in the form of car chases and shoot-outs. Theyíre handled well, but in a world where ID:A exists alongside the likes of the Bourne and Dragon Tattoo movies, they hardly measure up. I do appreciate the relative smallness of itóeven though itís wrapped up in political assassinations and dirty money, itís more of an intimate noir that weaves among a small set of characters, but it lacks the necessary urgency or intrigue, perhaps due to its inert structure. For a film that plays at hiding secrets, none of them are particularly staggering, and it feels like ID:A could have easily been played as a straight thriller.
Novonty does make for a compelling lead, if only because sheís difficult to pin down at first. Her possession of a cache of money in the wake of an assassination makes her suspicious, and Christiansen reconfigures her as a full-on noir femme fatale at the end of the first act, where she disguises herself with a close-cropped, raven-haired makeover. Itís eventually clear that sheís really a riff on Hitchcockís wrong man, but itís fun to see the film play around with at least one convention since itís otherwise so beholden to formula. Denying Christiansenís chops is difficult, as he coaxes some solid, humane performances and injects the film with an icy, stylish atmosphere thatís typical of this burgeoning genre. What it lacks in a pulse it makes up for with sleek visuals and a brutal, no frills approach to violence that grounds the film (even though itís really quite ludicrous, so perhaps ID:A would have been better off as a more self-aware thrill ride).
Like many of his fellow European directors, Christiansen made his way to Hollywood, where he churned out The Roommate, that Single White Female rip-off from 2011 that youíve probably already forgotten. ID:A is certainly a notch above that, as it seems like Hollywood drained any sense of style from the director and forced him to make the most bland non-thriller imaginable in that case. Also released in its native land in 2011, ID:A has finally come to North America thanks to Shout Factory, whose release only features a lone trailer as an extra. The presentation is at least solid, though I did notice some occasional artifacts whenever the screen was saturated in darker hues. If youíre just now plunging into the world of Euro crime-thrillers, ID:A is the one to check out after youíve exhausted the store of its more notable predecessors. Rent it!
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