DeUsynlige (Troubled Water) (Erik Poppe, 2008)
Troubled Water is a very pretty, very well-acted, quite compelling movie that has just one flaw. Unfortunately, that flaw is a fatal one indeed, and if you notice it, it is liable to poison the entire movie for you. It’s not a spoiler—the movie goes into this territory pretty early on—but since it is the kind of thing that is likely to poison the entire film, I will mark it as a spoiler when we get there (the third paragraph of this review), and if you are so inclined and have not seen the movie, you should probably stop reading there. I’ll tell you right now it’s not a recommend, though—even given this fatal flaw—only by the barest of margins; the movie’s strong points are almost enough to overcome this. Given how well the movie has been received, either they do overcome it for many people, or that same “many people” just don’t recognize that the flaw exists; to be fair, you have to be in a certain position in your life to recognize it. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Jan Thomas (Max Manus: Man of War‘s Pal Sverre Valhein Hagen) has recently been paroled from prison. He was sent there for killing a child, and since his arrest he has maintained that the child’s death was an accident. He finds himself a job as the organist at a church headed by Anna (King of Devil’s Island‘s Ellen Dorrit Peterson), who has a son, Jens (Into the Dark‘s Fredrik Grondahl in his screen debut) about the same age as Isak (Jon Vagenes Erikson), the boy who died all those years (ten? fifteen?) ago. Jan Thomas is initially reluctant to interact with Jens, but eventually he and Anna’s attraction for one another wins out, and Jan Thomas and Jens start bonding. All goes smoothly until Agnes (Festen‘s Trine Dyrholm), Isak’s mother, discovers Jan Thomas is out of prison and begins stalking him, trying to make him admit to a murder he continues to assert never occurred.
As promised, here’s the big SPOILER ALERT warning. Here’s the main thing that blew the
movie for me: if a child dies on your watch, and it doesn’t matter one bit if that death was intentional or not, there is no way in ever-living hell that you are going to treat another child on your watch with the casual air with which Jan Thomas treats Jens once the two of them start becoming friends. Which would normally be a minor annoyance, but that casuality is the mechanism upon which the entire second half of the movie turns; Harald Rosenlow-Eeg (Hawaii, Oslo)’s script turns on this device, pushing it into a far more important place than it should have. Thus, without this particularly choice piece of stupidity… we wouldn’t have a movie. There are other, far more minor, pieces of silliness that do rate as minor annoyances in comparison (why the hell, in the flashback scenes, is Agnes pushing Isak, who’s supposedly four and definitely very large for his age, around in a stroller? And even if you can justify that, why a stroller that’s at least two sizes too small for him? It becomes obvious in the flashbacks pertaining to his death that the boy is perfectly capable of walking on his own), but none of them achieve the magnitude, or the ineptitude, of this one. If you can get past that, it’s quite a nice little film, perhaps a little Lifetime Original Movie-esque in the romance angles (both the germination of the relationship between Jan Thomas and Anna and the strained relationship between Agnes and her husband, whose marriage is on the verge of disintegration throughout the film), but compelling enough for all that. If Rosenlow-Eeg had treated the relationship between Jan Thomas and Jens with the intelligence it deserved, and then by default not attempted to make this into the thriller it never becomes, it would have been a very different and, I think, much more compelling film. **
When you need a friend, I’m sailing right behind…