Michael Noer is a filmmaker who is still practising the methodologies of the Dogme ‘95 movement. He grew up with the films of Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg – the creators of the movement – and as a documentarian he is committed to upholding the organic process of filmmaking.
With his second feature film, Northwest, Noer has taken the American gangster drama and injected a European sensibility into it. Although obviously indebted to the likes of Martin Scorcese and Michael Mann, Noer’s film is more beholden to French cinemas interpretation of the gangster genre, particularly Matthieu Kassovitz’s groundbreaking work La Haine, and Jacques Audriard’s intelligent contemporary masterpieces The Beat That My Heart Skipped (2005), and A Prophet (2009).
The film is set in the northwest parts of Copenhagen, hence the film’s title. However, in an interview for Cineuropa Noer has stressed that the area is not a defined geographical location and that there is universality to it. It can also be interpreted as a direction; a path one follows that leads to a number of possibilities whether good or bad. In terms of the film’s main character, Casper (Gustav Dyekjær Giese), it’s a milieu he’s grown up in and he doesn’t know any different. He does what he needs to survive and to protect and provide for his family. As the oldest brother he’s the man of the house.
Casper is a small-time burglar. He works with his friend Robin (Nicholas Westwood Kidd) to knock off the more affluent houses and sell the goods to a local buyer, Jamal (Dulfi Al-Jabouri). Casper often feels ripped off by Jamal but his luck changes when he attracts the attention of the hot-headed gang leader and pimp, Bjørn (Roland Møller). Bjørn sees great potential in Casper – his reputation and name suggests he is like a ghost, able to slip in and out of houses undetected. But the jobs don’t stop there. Casper must transport Bjørn’s prostitutes around town and as he ascends within the group his next task is to kill somebody.
Things start to spiral out of control as Casper’s new business deal sparks a gangland war between Jamal and Bjørn’s crew but it takes on a more personal level when Casper invites his younger brother to work a job with him. Casper promised his mother that his brother, Andy (Oscar Dyekjær Giese – Gustav’s real life brother) would concentrate on his studies, but Andy disagrees and proves to be the bigger man of the two. Casper’s world is falling apart and he can no longer protect his family. With his brother moving higher within the ranks, Casper becomes an embarrassment and liability to his family, friends, Bjørn and Jamal.
As a documentarian Noer has created a believable portrayal of impoverishment and crime in the European suburbs. He used a mixture of professional and non-professional actors and encouraged them to draw from their own experiences instead of memorising pre-written dialogue. The use of a hand-held camera adds to the verisimilitude and further enhances the organic properties of filmmaking that Noer loves to practice. At times the film feels slightly Americanised and predictable but the overall result is an extremely well-crafted, brutal and hard-hitting drama.
Northwest is available on VOD, DVD and is showing at selected UK cinemas