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Bibliophile reviews the movie Mýrin (Jar City)

The film Mýrin (The Mire)is based on the book of the same title by Icelandic crime writer Arnaldur Indriðason. It was published in English as Jar City (also as Tainted Blood). I read the book a couple of years ago but never got round to reviewing it. Here is a link to Maxine's review: Jar City review.

The story begins with the discovery of the body of a murdered man in a basement apartment in a neighbourhood known as Norðurmýri, The North Mire, so-called because that is what was there before the houses were built. He turns out to have been a vicious thug and the investigation soon leads the police to start trying to find the victims of crimes he committed years before and which may explain why he was murdered. They also decide to re-open the investigation into the disappearance of one of his cronies many years before, an investigation that was closed with what Erlendur, the leading investigator, thinks is suspicious haste.

The movie was directed by Baltasar Kormákur who is probably Iceland's best film director right now. Being an actor himself, he is good at getting the best out the actors he directs and it shows in his films.

When I first heard that Ingvar E. Sigurðsson was to play the lead, Erlendur, I was not convinced that he could do it properly. For one thing, he looks nothing like what I had imagined Erlendur to look like, and secondly he is about 10 years too young and youthful-looking to boot. I need not have worried – Ingvar is one of Iceland's best actors and pulled the role off very convincingly, as did Ágústa Eva Erlendsdóttir who played his daughter, drug addict Eva, and Atli Rafn Sigurðsson as a young father driven to desperation by the tragic death of his daughter, to name only three of the characters. Everyone was, in fact, very good in their roles.

The changes to the story from book to movie were minor and were, in my opinion, necessary for the cinematic adaptation. The movie is filmed in colours that reflect the moods of people and nature, the colours being warm and homey inside Erlendur's apartment, cold and stark in an early funeral scene, and at other times sepia coloured or almost monotonous. Nothing is beautified, the people look like people, not beautifully made up dolls like in most Hollywood movies, and nature looks by turns harsh and beautiful. The director has not given much into the mania common among Icelandic film makers to show off the country to its best advantage with endless landscape shots but has mostly stuck to a few aerial views of roads winding through black and green lava fields which look very good but get a bit repetitious after the second one. In between are scenes of Icelandic weather at its howling, windy worst.

In her review of the book, Maxine mentions an impossibility that mars the story somewhat. That particular plot device is made a little clearer and more believable in the movie. It takes massive suspension of disbelief to accept that anyone could break the coding system Decode Genetics uses to hide the identities of the people included in their genetics studies, but having seen what can happen if many enough people are careless enough, the explanation of how the system was bypassed that is given in the film becomes somewhat believable.

The story as it is told in the movie is an emotional rollercoaster, often sad, even tragic, but sometimes very funny as well, especially in scenes involving Erlendur's young colleague, yuppie type Sigurður Óli who fancies himself to be a cop like the ones you see in American crime movies (right down to doughnuts and take-out coffee). It says something about the skill of the filmmakers that you can laugh at a movie that has so much ugliness and tragedy in it as Mýrin does.

Many reviewers have called Mýrin the best movie ever made in Iceland. I can not be a judge of that, as I have not seen all Icelandic movies, but I will venture to say that it is the best and most realistic crime movie ever made in Iceland. See it if you can – while it may lose something in translation the visual aspects are still the same. I also recommend reading the book beforehand as it can only add to the enjoyment of the movie.

Rated 8 out of a possible 10.


Anonymous said…
Great review, and thanks for linking to mine of the book. I can't wait to see the film -- not least to see if it is indeed any more convincing about breaking a double-blind code than the book!
I'll link to your review from Petrona.
Best wishes
Peter Rozovsky said…
Do you know of plans to release the movie in the U.S.? I thought basing the solution on the genetic code took unique advantage of the story's situation in Iceland; the book could not have been set anywhere else. Of course, I lack Maxine's knowledge of science!
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
Bibliophile said…
Peter, considering that all of the director's movies have been released abroad, I am certain this one will be too.
As to the genetic code - that is still in the movie, but a more plausible way of getting past it has been suggested, i.e. not breaking but bypassing. The exact method is not explained, but a suggestion is made as to how someone could have done it if enough people had been careless (or trusting) enough.
Peter Rozovsky said…
Thanks. Perhaps I'll read the novel again before I see the movie. This discussion could increase my scientific literacy.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

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