Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

Sometimes we forget that film is a visual medium. Sure we sit down in our chairs at the theater or at home and watch whatever, but because we take for granted the quality of the image we see on the screen we rarely appreciate the artistry that it takes to create said image. Then every once in a while a movie comes along that is filmed so beautifully and looks so phenomenal that the title ‘Director of Photography’ informs you that a true artist was behind the lighting and framing of every single frame of this film that you are watching. Swedish director’s Steve Aalam's film ‘Gangster’ is such a movie with the best word to describe how looks as ‘lush’. Okay, so the movie looks great, but is it any good? Well, though not a bad movie, but like a book with a pretty cover, it certainly looks better than it reads.

As our film opens we see Antonio (Peter Gardiner) declaring undying love to his pregnant girlfriend Sofie (Aliette Opheim) at some wacky new age type ceremony while Antonio’s sister Nathalie (Malou Hansson) looks on as a witness to this glorious event. Meantime mob boss Thomas Steele (Mikael Persbrandt) is kissing his daughter and wife good-bye and it is fairly obvious in the slow motion of it all that once they get into that car, something bad is going to happen, and as if on cue, it does. A distraught Thomas knows who planted the bomb in his car, an explosive that was no doubt meant for him, A man named Tobbe (Tobias Hjelm). This Tobbe is apparently of some great importance to Sofie, who in tears and on her hands and knees begs Thomas to allow the police to handle the situation and spare Tobbe’s life. At the wake for his family Thomas informs Antonio, his right hand man, of his girlfriend’s pleas and asks him ‘is this what we do?’ The answer in unequivocally no, Antonio reluctantly kills Tobbe, a friend of his and cherished brother to his one true love which leads to catastrophic consequences for all involved.

Years have passed and Antonio has detached himself somewhat from Thomas and his organization, opening a restaurant and finding a new mate in the lovely, albeit extremely jealous Jazmine (Jenny Lampa), who also serves as accountant and advisor to the Steele crime empire. Never far from Antonio, for reasons we won’t divulge as it is best to allow these things to unfold on their own is Sofie. Antonio had taken out a loan to fund his restaurant and is in the process or repaying the loan – people in this line of work don’t deal with bankers mind you – when inexplicably his money is stolen from him by his sister Nathalie to pay some debts that their father owes. This is about the point ‘Gangster’ pretty much flies off the tracks and explodes in a small town outside of Stockholm as we get introduced to more mobsters, the son of a shipping tycoon and his lesbian mother, while secrets are revealed about Sofie and her relationship to the criminal organization. Jazmin learns other secrets which only pisses her more leading her to take actions with extremely dire consequences leading to a most explosive conclusion.

Andreas Wassberg is your cinematographer for this film, a name to remember. Steve Aalam is your director for this film, a name to remember. Not since South Korean director Kim In-shik’s ‘Hypnotized’ have I seen a film that looked as a good as this one does. This is old time Hollywood style filmmaking with beautiful people in beautiful clothes placed in beautiful sets shot under beautiful lights. The movie itself is a bit of a confusing enigma, again much in the way that found I Kim’s ‘Hypnotized’. There seemed to be far too many characters for Aalam’s script to support, especially considering the wealth of melodrama that surrounded most of the characters. And a narrative which was fairly broad to begin with was blown wide open and bordered on the comical by the time Nathalie took off with her brother’s loot. Since there were so many characters there wasn’t a lot of time put into the development of all these characters which didn’t assist in helping translate why these characters performed in a certain way. It seemed that Aalam recognized this shortcoming and attempted to put in little dialog bits in between the melodrama to explain some of these things, but it wasn’t enough.

On the positive side, other than the unparalleled look of the film, Mikael Persbrandt was magnetic as mobster Thomas Steele, though I’m not quite sure what kind of mobster he was since I don’t recall him doing a single illegal thing in this movie, Peter Gardiner emotional stoicism played well to his character as the emotionally stoic Antonio and since I’ve never been to Sweden I must assume that if a skirt doesn’t hug your hips and doesn’t creep at least 10 inches above the knee, than that’s a skirt that women there simply won't wear. Whatever the situation. Funerals, formals, church, police raids, whatever – tight mini skirts worn, by women who can fill up a tight mini skirt with the best of them, at all times. Director Aalam should take his three stunningly beautiful female leads and stick them in another flick immediately. Some kind of Swedish Charlie’s Angels I’m thinking.

As a film ‘Gangster’ has it’s shortcomings. As a primer on how movie is supposed to look it has few peers. Enjoy it for the photography, enjoy it for its women, enjoy it for Makael Persbrant, tolerate it for its story.

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