Usually when I use the word frenetic it relates to the pace of a film. The way it whips through its story and keeps you locked on it because it is on a race for the finish line. However when I describe Polar, the only word other than unique I can use is frenetic and this time it isn’t a compliment. Never comfortable just sitting and letting its story bubble away, Polar is all over the place, story coming at you but never really sticking because of its oftentimes confusing speed. This Mads Mikkelsen starrer seems far more interested in painting a pretty picture akin to something by Jackson Pollack more than making a film that actually provides any kind of entertainment factor.
Telling the story of Duncan ‘The Black Kaiser’ Vizla (Mikkelsen), a recently retired hitman who after trying to claim his exorbitant pension from his former employer is sought for assassination himself by the people he worked with and for. While he tries to settle down with the help of his introverted next door neighbour Camille (Vanessa Hudgens) he must face off against his old boss Mr Blut (Matt Lucas) and the team of killers he has sent his way.
A mismatch of different ideas and themes are put into play here and while some might work on their own it all feels a little too much here. Not only is this a drama about one mans remorse over how he lived his life but it is also a pulpy farcical revenge thriller intent on making you laugh while you watch men bleed. Director Jonas Akerlund seems intent on making these two sides mesh but there is never a moment these incongruous elements feel at home with one another. Polar is intent on being something but never really decides what that something is.
The opening act is a sombre drama about a man coming to terms with the horrid things he has done in his past. While it has been done before it isn’t without class, Mikkelsen eats these kinds of characters up and spits them out human instead of the archetype the script demands. Here he works his magic in similar fashion but the final acts rainbow coloured gorefest strips the film of any nuance and makes Duncan a humorless automaton. Backed up by some horrific supporting characters by the likes of Katheryn Winnick, Lucas and especially a bizarre cameo by Johnny Knoxville, Polar can’t quite catch a break.
The downside is that Akerlund really does have a keen eye for visuals and when he plays into the comic book nature of his story it livens up, at least momentarily. The way he shoots his landscapes and uses space to evoke emptiness is a clear sign of untapped potential but when he is bogged down in derivative action that is not only uninspired but vicious in an almost fake capacity, you cannot help but ignore these small flickers of hope. The snapshot style of shooting gives the film the feel of an epic poem, a grand story unfolding but you need to fill your film with enough story to justify this embellishment.
This is where Polar’s key issue lies, in the fact that despite its few and far between shining spots, it lacks the innovation to do anything with them. The action employs ultra violence instead of finding a new way to depict it while gratuitous sex replaces genuine chemistry or the concept of seduction. The worst of it is Polar relies on crass humour and an overabundance of dick jokes to lighten an already childish film making this seem more like a film for the 15 to 20-year-old sociopath crowd, not actual people.
Never quite let in on the old adage that less is more, Polar is so overstuffed I was surprised they actually didn’t use a kitchen sink as a weapon just so they could throw it in as well. Akerlund gives you everything in excess, not only wanting you to love his film but loathe it in equal measure. So intent on getting some kind of rise out of his audience he has crafted something designed for someone else, not himself. The film feels like a lost cause because it never has enough faith in itself to tell its own story, just the idea of the story people want to see. Desperate to look and sound cool, Polar makes the classic error of trying way too hard, and that is a surefire way to look anything but cool.