Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Troubled Water (2008)*****

Story wise, this impressive Norwegian import has more layers than a box of smoked salmon and before we are through, director Erik Poppe will have methodically revealed all of them. Troubled Water is at heart a psychological thriller, and is characterized by superb casting, exceptional acting and a brave willingness to confront murky and difficult issues without resorting to easy answers.

Convicted of the abduction of a child, Jan (Pal Sverre Valheim Hagen, in a stunning performance) is granted early parole to take a job as a church organist, in the same small town where he was tried and sentenced years earlier. Jan flourishes in his new environment for awhile but, despite changes in appearance and taking on a different name, eventually the shocking details of his past slowly encircle him, and his attempts to rebuild his life are mortally threatened.

Troubled Water then unfolds with the telling of two stories, or rather two perceptions of the same story, as we become intimately acquainted with the mother of the dead child (Trine Dyrholm, whose work here is breathtaking) and the deep mental trauma inflicted on her by the tragedy. Along the way there is significant collateral damage; in particular Dyrholm’s husband (Trond Espen Seim), whose desperation to spare his wife further pain is both palpable and self-defeating and Anna (Ellen Dorritt Peterson), the beautiful church pastor who will have her rote platitudes about Christian redemption severely tested.

The film tilts slightly toward melodrama in the final scenes, but that is due more to the subject matter than any conscious decision by director Poppe, and he quickly rights the ship. Important questions are raised about the differences between forgiveness and acceptance, and how in some cases the former may be beyond the capacity of human beings, regardless of the depth of one’s religious convictions.

Troubled Water is a small-scale film made with great skill and meticulous attention to detail. Poppe, Dryholm, Hagen and Seim all acquit themselves very well here, and this absorbing drama may well represent a major turning point in their respective careers.