CAST: Rasmus Bjerg, Zaki Youssef, Bjørn Sundquist, Sofie Gråbøl, Marco Ilsø, Jonas Bergen Rahmanzadeh, Håkon T. Nielsen, Tommy Karlsen, Rune Temte
RUNNING TIME: 102 mins
BASICALLY…: A middle-aged man (Bjerg) retreats to the Norwegian mountains to live as his ancestors did…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
To some, the desire to drop everything and live the life of a hermit in the wilderness may sound like a good alternative than the world we’re currently living in. However, even for those who are most in-tune to nature, the practicality of it can be hilariously underwhelming; at least, that’s what director and co-writer Thomas Daneskov’s Danish comedy Wild Men sets out to preach, in its own deadpan – if slightly tame – style.
We open on a middle-aged man named Martin (Rasmus Bjerg) who, having become disillusioned with his normal life back in Denmark, has retreated to the Norwegian mountains to live as a wild scavenger, as his ancestors once did. Unfortunately, he’s pretty rubbish at it: dressed head-to-toe in a ridiculous-looking animal fur costume, he can barely hunt for food – prompting him to go and rob a nearby convenience store in an opening sequence – and can’t even part with his iPhone, which is filled with messages from his concerned wife Anne (Sofie Gråbøl of The Killing), whom he originally told was off to a company retreat. A new challenge comes for Martin, however, when he comes across an injured young man named Musa (Zaki Youssef), a weed smuggler who’s just survived a car crash and is now being chased by the authorities, including world-weary police chief Øyvind (Bjørn Sundquist). When Musa tells his rescuer about a nearby community of like-minded scavengers, Martin takes his new ward across the mountains to find this new haven, all while avoiding both the cops and his increasingly worried wife.
Daneskov’s film explores and satirises the fragile male ego in its most pathetic state, where it has reached such a low point of insecurity that a return to neanderthal savagery is the extreme last resort before it’s wiped away forever. Martin, played with deep first-world torment by Rasmus Bjerg, is a wannabe Robinson Crusoe, desperate to prove himself a formidable survivalist, but is unwilling to admit that he is so cluelessly domesticated, and deeply self-involved, that the odds of him lasting for more than a few weeks is minimal, to say the least. At its core, the movie explores Martin’s eroding masculinity and the desperate measures he takes in order to reach a satisfying level of self-fulfilment, which often generates some uncomfortable laughs as we see just how seriously he is taking his pathetic reclamation of manhood (a failed attempt to cross a rapids generates as many groans as there are chortles).
The film also functions as an unlikely buddy movie, with Martin’s blossoming friendship with this lowlife criminal proving to be a surprise source of heart and soul. Zaki Youssef’s Musa does a good straight-man next to unstable lunatic Martin, and as the two bond over smoking weed by a campfire – with the would-be Bear Grylls sucking on the joint like it’s an inhaler – there is a nice little dynamic between both of them which both actors lean heavily into for some awkward back-and-forths, making for a number of fun interactions between these two lost souls. There are also elements of a dry cop comedy, as we frequently cut back to the small and largely incompetent police force chasing after our two main characters, and how they lack either the sources to properly hunt them down (apparently, the sniffer dog is on its day off), or the willpower since they’d rather be at home having roast dinners with their families. They’re led by Bjørn Sundquist’s wistful captain Øyvind, who almost too self-consciously has “two days left until retirement” energy about him, and provides the film with much needed wisdom amidst all the mental instability.
Things collide for an intense climax where blood is inevitably shed, but there is a slight tameness to how it approaches its darker edges, especially when it’s blatantly clear that there are much further depths it could potentially explore within these plots. Instead, it resorts to a standard criminal sub-plot, with very obvious villains and a rather pedestrian pay-off, implying more of a happy ending than a satire like this probably should allow some of its characters. Its deadpan style perhaps also prevents things from escalating further than they do, giving the conclusion an all-too light feel that could have used some heavier, even pitch-black stabs at humour in order to really get the proper reactions.
Instead, Wild Men settles for being a light, but still digestible, comedy-drama about the deepest insecurities of manhood, which often has some good laughs at just how pathetic some people can be when they feel their manhood is being threatened, and is well-acted and written enough to be enjoyable in the moment. However, it’s not exactly one to lose yourself in the woods over either.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Wild Men is an amusing, if light, deadpan satire of masculine insecurities which often provides some strong laughs at the deeply pathetic levels one can go to when their sense of manhood is threatened, but it lacks the weight to dive any further into its themes outside of a standard crime climax which plays things a little too safe for this kind of movie.