When is an Icelandic film not an Icelandic film? That is the most important question raised by A Little Trip To Heaven the latest movie by Baltasar Kormákur, the acclaimed director of 101 Reykjavík. Sure, the movie was produced by Sigurjón Sighvatsson; sure, it features real Iceland. But it is not an Icelandic movie, there are no ties to the country; hell, Iceland is not even mentioned. Maybe this is a step in the right direction, however.
I have long been an advocate of shooting movies in Iceland. The countryside has some of the most breathtaking landscapes around (and I don’t mean the standard shooting location of glaciers and frozen lakes with icebergs; I mean real Iceland) with vast vistas and breathtaking ruggedness. This is the movie I have been waiting for in that regard.
However…it could have been slightly more interesting.
Forest Whitaker plays Abe Holt a ‘law suggestor’ who is sent to North Hastings to examine a car crash. When he stumbles onto an obvious murder scene, he follows the leads the police are blind to because of North Hastings’ small town nature. There is one twist, however, it is too obvious right from the start of the movie.
For a limited Icelandic release, Little Trip is everything an Icelandic movie is, and should always be – beautiful to look at, and it reminds us of home. But this movie is not just intended for an Icelandic audience. It is being marketed mainly as a Forest Whitaker and Julia Stiles movie. That is where it falls flat on its face. It doesn’t have the oomph to make it outside Iceland. Sure the acting is quality stuff; Forest Whitaker and Julia Stiles are both great actors who don’t bow down to Hollywood pressure, even though once upon a time Forest Whitaker had a higher billing than Johnny Depp. It is just that there is something missing.
The camera work is breathtaking and on the basis of this Baltasar can make it as a successful director outside of Iceland, and I don’t believe it will be too long before he takes the lens of a big budget picture from Hollywood. His eye for beauty in something that has limited obvious beauty is amazing – it was shown mildly in 101 Reykjavík and shown stunningly in Hafið. But what the film makes up for in imagery, it lacks in script depth. You don’t end up caring for the characters, for the most part they are shallow and two-dimensional, and by the end I had discovered that I really didn’t care if Isold (Stiles) got the money or not. In fact you wonder why the police hadn’t got more involved on a larger scale; of course, that could be made up for in a sequel… A Little Trip to Hell anyone?
On the whole the best thing to come out of the movie was the music by Mugison; he is an accomplished composer who brought real soul to the movie. When it came time to leave the cinema, my general impression was, the A Little Trip To Heaven was ok, but could have been so much more.