Set in late ‘90s Reykjavík, blockbuster ‘Black’s Game’ purports to shed a light on a lesser-known side of innocent ol’ Iceland, one where criminals, drug dealers and violent berserkers run amok, raising hell, terrorising people and engaging in sexy orgies to a soundtrack of old pop music. It is already one of the most successful Icelandic movies ever, and it has been lauded for its ‘stark realism.’
We, your friends at the Grapevine, usually don’t like to hang out in those circles, so we have no idea whether those claims are true. We asked some guys who are familiar with Reykjavík’s underworld to review it for realism. Jón H. Hallgrímz (AKA Jón Stóri) has battled with demons through his life and was once arrested in connection to one of Iceland’s bigger drug cases, elements of which reportedly inspired ‘Black’s Game’ (he hasn’t been convicted for anything since then) and is known to be outspoken on the subject of crime in Iceland. Ævar Örn Guðjónsson also speaks from experience; he was once deeply involved in the underworld but has turned the page and now focuses on helping others. He is described by his friend Jón as “a stand-up citizen that will give you the shirt right off his back.”
Together they went to the movies. Read on for their assessment.
ÆVAR AND JÓN’S CRIME ASSESSMENT OF BLACK’S GAME IS THUS
We give the movie 4.5 stars. First off, we would have started by beating up Brúnó (Damon Younger), as he is a skinny, two-bit loser that no one likes. If you are going to run a crime syndicate, everyone in the inner circle needs to look up to you and like you; you don’t last long by intimidating your co-workers. Brúnó couldn’t survive for long in our old world, because everyone would turn against him quickly. He would be taken on a so-called ‘car ride’ and after that he would crawl to rehab, crying the whole way.
If you’re at the top, you can shit all over those who are way below you in the pecking order, but never on your peers—that will break up the sense of fraternity that keeps things together and running smoothly. This is something Brúnó would need to learn, probably the hard way. Tóti (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson) is a guy that we definitely would have allowed to party with us, a fun and brutal cat. Jóhannes has the looks and mannerisms down to a tee and gives the most realistic performance out of anyone in the movie. Skál to you, Jóhannes, one of the best—if not the best—crime actors in Iceland! The second most realistic character is Robbi Rotta (Vignir Rafn Valþórsson). Definitely a guy that would never go far in this world, no matter who he knew, a punk like him would maybe be allowed to be a small time dealer, but never anything beyond that.
As Sævar K., Gillzenegger depicts a character that we have often come across. Still, the difference between Sævar K. as played by Gillzenegger and a real psycho is huge. When a real psycho maniac tells you that you’re disgusting, it echoes in your soul—and if you’re not completely insane yourself, you will accept his words without a sound.However, when Gillz tells you you’re disgusting you just think, “yeaaaah right, a beefy Páll Óskar is trying to intimidate me…” He didn’t manage to portray a volatile psycho more realistically than that, unfortunately.
Dagný (María Birta) is the girl you hate to love. Very frequently you’ll see a girl like that pop up in a group of friends and break it up in a short time—friends will fistfight and stop talking because of a beautiful junky ho that only wants two things: drugs and money. But when a girl like Dagný doesn’t get the drugs or money she wants, she’ll use her beauty to destroy gullible and drugged up individuals. A woman like her never stops for long in the same group of friends, because people see through her in the end. The cops in the movie uttered a classic sentence that everyone in the underworld knows and dreads: “Would you come talk to us for a bit?”
Regarding the underworld organisation portrayed in the movie, it gives criminals too much credit. Nothing is that planned: it’s mostly driven by drug use, greed and power-hunger, just like a politician is driven by his or her greed. Still, the criminal will think through his moves with a care that most people learn in jail, as Iceland’s prison, Litla Hraun, is the criminal’s best school. The paranoia that arises from days upon days of staying up also ensures that they are careful when selling their drugs.
There is only one rule: don’t get caught. However, after months of partying you stop thinking straight and rationally, and that’s when people in this world make their mistakes. That’s when all their thoughts revolve around drugs and money, all feelings of friendship and mutual respect have vanished and everyone has turned into a chieftain that nobody likes or trusts. But kids, there is nothing exciting about this world. Do everything you can to avoid it. Some of us don’t have that option, some of us are born into this kind of shit and there is nothing cool about that.