Somehow it happened in my life, that I missed the trend of reading Scandinavian crime stories. Just when it was slowly going away, I started to consume Jo Nesbø’s books about the police officer Harry Hole. And despite the fact that there are many volumes, I don’t consider myself to be an expert of Nordic crime stories, ha, not an expert of crime stories in general. Reviews that you can find below, regarding movies about detective Varg Veum, are based on the productions themselves without a comparison with other representatitves of this genre. Maybe you will find something to watch for tonight?
VARG VEUM - THE ORIGIN
But what is this all about? Gunnar Staalesen wrote his first book about detective Varg Veum in 1977, and until 2008 he published 18 volumes more and they are being adapted for the screen since 2007. Until now 2 sets of 6 movies were released. And this is the fun part – films do not follow the books order, which I haven’t read, so I cannot verify the changes in the plot. Those variations can influence the unevenness between the movies, but you can see differences of course due to the work of different directors. There were quite few of them. The most famous one is probably Morten Tyldum, known for “Headhunters” and “The Imitation Game”.
A quality of a specific movie depends on the characters. Those who appear in few pieces usually are gaining from a movie to movie. However, most of the characters occur only in one part and they remain unidimensional – which sometimes bothers me, sometimes I don’t even notice that.
From all of the heroes I should start with the main one, detective Varg Veum (Tron Espen Seim). He lives and works in Bergen, where also most of the plots take place. He is a private detective, formerly working in social services. Around 40 years old, tall, slim, always with a three-day beard, having just one set of clothes. He does not differ much from the stereotypical popular image of this type of detective/policeman: rather without a family, rather with a complicated personal life, rather likes to drink, rather not ugly, rather attracting troubles, rather is the only person in town with intuition. I don’t want to be dragged into a discussion about Varg’s masculinity, whether he is an alpha male or not. I wouldn’t judge his behaviour in those categories, I would focus more on cringe. Sometimes he could simply let go. That’s it. Otherwise, cringe, here you go.
Usually Varg gets involved in cases, which at some point concern also the police. And at the beginning this was the story arc a little big irritating for me. Although, after some time, it became my favourite. Mainly thanks to the chief of local police, who beside Varg appears on all movies. Jacob Hamre (Bjørn Floberg) is around 50 years old and other features he is sharing with Varg – workaholic, devoted to his job, rather lonely, always wearing the same clothes.
In contrast to books about Harry Hole or Millenium, which can be pretty brutal, Varg is not filled with violence and blood. Most of the movies I consider to be decent crime stories, sometimes better or worse in a technical sense, sometimes with cringe moments, but all of them are representing the gloomy and dark Scandinavian atmosphere. In most of them you can find beautiful shoots, really good opening scenes and great titles. Other elements are uneven. The characters of Varg and Hamre are evolving and with time they provide with a good dose of sarcastic humour. Other characters are usually flat and “square”, which is not always a flaw (sometimes it just does not make sense to deepen the personality of supporting actors), but it starts to annoy me when all teenagers have emotional issues, the bad guys are always white middle-aged men and the upper middle class is just Sodom and Gomorrah. You can find good old themes for crime stories: politics, narcotics, gangs, technology, army and racial issues. Every kind under the sun, so I can recommend a specific movie, but after watching all 12 of them in a row, I am a bit tired of the pattern that you can spot. Usually the opening is promising, the tension holds you for around three quarters of the movie, then you get to the turning point and you think, that the riddle is thinly disguised.
Bukken til havresekken (The Buck to the Sack of Oats), not made
into a film
Bittre blomster / Bitter flowers (directed by Ulrik Imtiaz Rolfsen)
A local politician Vibeke Farang (Trine Wiggen) is hiring Varg to find her young daughter who has gone missing. Hamre and his assistant Isaschen (Endre Hellestveit) do not wish detective’s help and at the same time it is obvious, that he will solve the mystery first. In the investigation a huge company producing medicine is involved as well as brothers who are about to take over the management over it. Corrupted, filled with evil upper class and good, straightfoward Varg. Between those two worlds there is a lawyer working at the company, Anna(Kathrine Fagerland), who would have to choose between job and morality.
Watching “Bitter flowers” makes sense only because of introducing the character of Anna, who will appear in the next pieces. Because beside of the good opening scene the movie is full of cliches – rich parents, preoccupied with carrier and romances, but of course loving their kids, a conspiracy in the big company, and one of the final scenes has too much of resemblance to the end of the one seasons of Dexter.
2. Tornerose sov i hundre år / Sleeping Beauty, (directed by Erik Richter Strand)
Varg is going to Copenhagen in order to find Lisa (Julie Rustie), daughter of the local businessman, Peter Werner (Bjørn Willberg Andersen). The case is not finished with the moment of leaving Lisa at her parents’ house. Werner neighbours’ son Peder (Frank Kjosås) is missing and parents ask Varg to find the boy. Again we have a rich Norwegian family, problems with emotions, teenage rebellion, mafia, sex and drugs.
I am not the brightest bulb in the box. There are viewers which after one sentence or one scene scream that the servant killed the lord, when I am still thinking about ex-wife and present mother-in-law. Watching “Varg Veum” my ego feels better. But then it doesn’t leave the movie with the greatest review. Because what kind of crime story it is, when an average spectator as me in the middle of the movie finds out who is the father and who is the killer? “Sleeping Beauty” is better in comparison with “Bitter flowers” in a sense that despite the fact that you know now everything, the tension is still there.
3. Din til døden / Yours until death (directed by Erik Richter Strand)
Varg is looking for a stolen car. He reached a car repair shop, where he found what he was looking for. The only obstacle was that the car was used by the mechanics for a robbery and they don’t want to give the car away. In addition to that, they claim that they bought the car. It belonged to Joachim Andersen (Igor Necemeer) and was sold by his ex-wife Wenche (Sølje Bergmann). Although Varg fulfilled his job and found a car, he got involved into a divorce and a murder. And an affair, that I want to quickly forget about.
My problem with this piece is that finally I really like the plot, but the romantic story arcs cause a lot of cringe. And the director still doesn’t know how to show Bergen in a different way beside one, present in all previous movies, same shoot.
4. Falne engler / Fallen angels (directed by Morten Tyldum)
We don’t know much about Varg’s private life. Probably he was married, but now he lives alone, he doesn’t go out and doesn’t meet his friends. The only mammal elements in his life are Hamre, Isachsen and Anna. In “Fallen Angels” his old friends showed up. At the airport Varg bumps into Rebecca (Pia Tjelta) and Jakob (Per Kjerstad), with whom he broke off contacts before they got married. Back then they were like a pack and even had a band. The band still exists and Jakob is its leader. He asks Varg to follow Rebecca and check if she is having an affair. Although Varg stays away from marital issues, this time he breaks this rule. His investigation is linked to a serial killer. His victims are drugged, dressed into white dresses and hanged.
I can complement the plot, I won’t complain about Varg’s private life and for the first time I feel sympathy towards Hamre.
5. Kvinnen i kjøleskapet / The Woman in The Fridge (directed by Alexander Eik)
Varg finally is earning some serious money as employed by the big IT company. They want Varg to find one of their employees, Arne Samuelsen (Erik Alexander Bjelke). This required a visit in his flat and meeting his co-workers. Varg is in contact with two of them – good-natured father and a grandfather Hallvard Johnsen (Dennis Storhøi) and a bit nervously and suspiciously looking Kejtill (Christian Rubeck). I think that this piece has the best opening scene and the most boring final one.
This time the director apparently realised that he is in Norway, which has a lot of beautiful landscapes. Bergen itself is not the most spectacular place on Earth, but you can show those cliffs! Finally here we have it.
6. Begravde hunder biter ikke / Buried Dogs (directed by Alexander Eik)
Bodyguards of one of the Bergen’s clubs went roughly on one of the guys, waiting in line to get inside. After their intervention the guy, who was not a typical Norwegian beauty, died. One of the top politicians of a conservative party, Einar Bergene (Kyrre Haugen Sydness) did not condemn the actions of the bodyguards. This opened up a huge discussion in media and in the party itself – should they apply more restrict anti immigrant policy? Einar is preparing himself for the upcoming elections for the position of the party leader. His opponent is Marit Haug (Siv Klynderud), much more toned in her opinions. Marit goes to Varg for help – she is afraid that somebody wants to kill her.
After the good fifth movie this piece was a little disappointment. The characters are unidimensional and boring, full of cliches and schemes. Everything that was possible was put into the screenplay and the riddle itself remained in the shadows. In the first part of the movie some small turning points were unexpected, but the closer you get to the end, the less tension there was.
7. Skriften på veggen / The Writing of the Wall (directed by Stefan Faldbakken)
Varg quit job as a detective and now works in school. The same school, which “by accident” Torill attends to. Torill is a sister of Eva Beate (Martine Johansen is playing as both sisters), a girl that died few years ago, when Varg was still working in social services. The beginning of Varg’s new job coincides with releasing Ulrik “Knife” Sand (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) from prison. Sand claims that he was in jail as an innocent man and he blames Varg for his misery. Knife seeks for revenge on the ex detective and in order to do that he uses Torill and the case of deceased Eva Beate.
So. Varg has got a haircut, has a partner, and, oh dear, changed his SUV for a bicycle, what made him steal a car, when he had to chase a villain. Hamre seems to be used to Varg now, he got rid of his annoying assistant. This piece gives some inside into Varg’s past. Now, when he is with Karin (Lene Nystrøm) he wants to settle down, but he cannot help with the need to save people. And this of course puts him and Karin in danger.
8. Svarte får / Black Sheep (directed by Stephan Apelgren)
This movie allows to get to know Karin. Or at least this was the attempt. Karin’s mother is dying and her last wish is to meet with Karin’s younger sister, Siren (Kjærsti Skjelndal), which ran away from home as a teenager. For Varg this time gap is no problem and soon he tracks Siren down. Apparently, she is involved in a murder and is surrounded by mafia. We see few incredibly unnecessary scenes, but in the end this is one of the best movies in the set.
Back to this attempt of getting to know Karin. The movie had a potential to do that, but it was blown away. She is hidden in Varg’s shadow, despite the fact that now she is the second most important character. On the other hand, male characters are nicely surprising, cause although the plot is based on women, men conduct all the actions.
9. Dødens drabanter / Consorts of Death (directed by Stephan Apelgren)
One of many small Norwegian islands. The postman is delivering packages. At one place he noticed door wide opened. As he knew the tenants, he came up to check the house. Inside he found two dead bodies. When he was moving back to the car, he was spotted by a boy, living in that house, holding a rifle. The postman managed to run away and notify the police. The boy, Jan Egil (Sturla Alvsvåg) told Hamre, that he will negotiate only with Varg Veum, otherwise he will kill his hostage, friend from school Silje (Dagny Backer Johnsen). Varg took care of young Jan Egil, when as a social worker decided to take the boy from his addicted to narcotics mother. Now, when boy is almost a man, in the whole investigation former Varg’s co-workers are involved – Cecilie (Line Verndal) and Hans (Vegar Hoel).
Maybe in a general opinion this piece does not have the most sophisticated riddle, but it the nicest to watch (if you skip those few scenes, when Varg is alpha male). And Hamre is pretty friendly. And many bad people dies, which is usually a benefit.
10. I mørket er alle ulver grå / At Night All Wolves Are Grey (directed by Alexander Eik)
From the very first minute I thought: yes, this is my part! Really good shoots at the beginning, it smelled a bit like James Bond with Pierce Brosnan. Varg went for skiing with his old pal Even Nymark (Jon Øigarden). Even is an ex soldier, now working as a guard in the Armakon company, producing weapons. During Even’s shift there is an explosion, which caused the death of most board members. Even is pointed out as a causer of the explosion. Varg checks out his flat and begins the investigation on his own. He finds some suspiciously looking papers and Even’s partner, Elise (Ane Dahl Torp). In the mean time he ends up in Budapest, where my favourite scene with Hamre takes place.
The turning point of that movie took the some charm of the whole production. Normally this was the moment when I was doing the facepalm and saying “yes, of course!”. This time I was suspecting one solution and still hoping that it won’t happen. In the end, the movie has really good first part and decent scenes with Hamre, nothing more.
11. De døde har det godt / The Dead Have It Easy (directed by Erik Richter Strand)
It starts with a chase in the forest in the middle of the night. Girl falls into the water, Varg is jumping after her. Girl survives the fall, but then she gets strangled. After the autopsy the conclusion is that it was an accident, so Varg starts to dig, suspecting a murder. He got dragged into the case because of Karin, who as a social worker, had the girl under her custody. After her death, she is paying attention to her friend, Amina (Sarah Bintu Sakor). At some point it is already too late for Varg to stop the investigation, even after Karin asked him to leave it. Everyone wants to help poor Amina, but no one understands why. I also don’t understand. She is just another amoeba. The only woman that is doing anything and has a seed of character is Ellen Wantu (Fumi Desalu-Vold). The viewer cannot be sure about anything that concerns Ellen, who is she and which side of power she supports.
I don’t get that movie at all. I don’t like anything here. Bad plot, a lot of cliches, bunch of extremely stupid decisions and on top of that Varg and Karin are arguing. Because what was not yet in Varg’s life? Human trafficking! It concerns mainly girls from the Third World, so Ukraine and Uganda. And of course all men from the upper class are involved. Just no. Skip it.
12. Kalde hjerter / Cold hearts (directed by Trond Espen Seim)
A prostitute disappears and her sister comes to Varg asking for help. He finds out that the sisters have also a brother and they allare famous siblings. Siv (Ingrid Olava), Maggie (Gitte Vitt) and Karl Gunnar (Brage Kjepso) were raised by four guardians. So what, seven characters in one sentence? And this is just the beginning! We also have a new villain, Malthus (Kim Sørensen), his bodyguard and his victim, Karl Gunnar’s pal. So it wasn’t enough that they have similar names, they also look the same. And Hamre is investigating a case of the murder of Bergen’s cats. And Karin is pregnant and expects a baby, so of course she should leave town for couple of days. And Varg has short, but cringy enough scenes when he talks to the belly. And often cries/joys that he is going to be a father. And everybody wears bad clothes. Weird fighting scenes, blood and sex. JustKarin looks good, because her only job in those movies is to look sexy.
And I thought it cannot be worse. The plot is disgustingly predictable and Trond failed as a director. From all bad scenes my favourite is the one when Varg is looking at pictures for a minute with a dramatic music in the background. Only Hamre is charming.
Have you seen any of those movies? What do you think? Let me know in the comments!
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