Polar (2019)

Director: Jonas Åkerlund

Writer: Jason Rothwell, Victor Santos (based on the graphic novel by)

Starring: Mad Mikkelsen, Matt Lucas, Katheryn Winnick, Vanessa Hudgens, Ruby O. Fee, Richard Dreyfuss

Cert: 18

Fast approaching retirement age, elite hitman Duncan Vizla (Mikkelsen) must fight for his pension as he realises that his shady employers intend to end his life before he can claim it. And so begins Polar, a vibrant interpretation of life as an assassin which refuses to shy away from both the brutality and the logistics of one of the world's most mysterious professions.

These days a film like Polar needs to work very hard in order to stand out amongst all the other moody ice-capped crime-thrillers out there. Well, Netflix's latest crime thriller certainly manages that, if not with anything other than it's impressive body-count.

It's not immediately obvious from its relatively tame opening scene, but it soon becomes clear that Polar is a breathtakingly violent film, with a brutality to it which only intensifies as the film progresses. Its final third is particularly gruesome, complete with a prolonged torture sequence and a 50.cal massacre of many'a faceless henchman. It's far from a mindless slaughter, however; Polar boasts some impressive choreography, most notably during a bloody hall-way fight scene during which Mikkelsen can finally let his character off of the leash. It is certainly not for the faint of heart. In a time when an audience's tolerance for violence is only increasingly, creativity is often rewarded and Polar gleefully dishes numerous inventive methods of murder.

Mikkelsen's stoic Duncan Vizla is truly a force of nature, dominating every scene with either a weighty silence or elegant and meticulous aggression. Given a no frills script, Mikkelsen brings more of a presence to the role than a personality, and although the film makes attempts to venture in the realms of a brooding character study, it doesn't quite provide enough to fully flesh out his character, while the darkly comic undertone undercuts any attempts to explore the character.

Matt Lucas' appearance as the repulsive but colourful Mr Blut is surprising and, at first, distracting. His character carries with it some Little Britain-esque surrealism, and it takes a while to shake off the feeling that David Walliams is about to waltz into his scenes in a frilly dress. Given time, however, Lucas is as able to immerse himself into the story and Mr Blut comes alive as truly sadistic villain as the silliness of his character morphs into something rather more sinister. Hudgens is far removed from any thing she has done previously with her emotive performance as the quietly damaged Camille. Amongst the gore and gunshots, her character manages to have a grounding influence on the film, providing a seemingly disparate subplot which gains more importance as the film progresses.

There are clues that this story has been adapted from a graphic novel format. Whereas many snowy crime-thrillers are oppressively monochromatic, typically offering little more than a splash of blood red on a white canvas, Polar employs a striking use of colour, particularly where Vizla's pursuers are concerned, the troupe of ruthless assassins sporting bright and idiosyncratic outfits. Vivian (played by Katheryn Winnick) is a particularly stylish member of the cast, with a fantastic array of bright and glamorous single-use costumes and hairstyles, all working to exemplify the lethal suavity and poise of her rather instrumental character. Truthfully, Polar would feel right at home within in the gritty and violent world created by the successful Daredevil (2015-2018) series and its satellites, only with the level of violence dialled up. Way up.

In one line: Savage and bloody, Polar is a stylish thrill ride with plenty of simple but sturdy performances and just the right amount of levity.

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