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Polar is literally a film of two halves but not in the temporal sense. Sure you could split this two hour movie into two one hour halves but that wouldn’t make it any less weird or jarring. When I say split it in two I mean the garish, overly lit and disgusting scenes juxtaposed with the wintry, grim and grey other half of the movie. Polar feels like it was stitched together from a Smokin’ Aces reboot and any of the films from Liam Neeson’s later career. It doesn’t work.
Duncan Vizla aka The Black Kaiser (Mads Mikkelsen) is two weeks from retirement. Haunted by the memories of a family he accidentally killed, the hitman lives a quiet life in a wintry rural town. Camille (Vanessa Hudgens) a shy, anxious girl lives opposite him. Little does Duncan know that he’s being hunted by his former colleagues who want to stop him from claiming his redundancy package of eight million dollars. After Camille is kidnapped Duncan goes on the warpath.
The performances in Polar are, for the most part, dire. Mikkelsen brings his usual gravitas and poise as well as a welcome physicality to the role but the backing isn’t there for him. Most of the supporting cast are trapped in their stupid archetypes with little room to manoeuvre. Matt Lucas has fun as the slippery, gross Mr Blut but he belongs in a different movie. Special praise should go to Ruby O. Fee for making Sindy as annoying as she is unnecessary. Hudgens is similarly trapped by Jayson Rothwell’s generic script but she’s also not exactly bringing her A-game to the material and in fairness it doesn’t deserve it.
The action scenes are where Polar, Mikkelsen and director Jonas Åkerlund really excel. The opening scene features a suitably lascivious Johnny Knoxville getting shot to death and is the only one of all the colour saturated scenes that entertains. Mads Mikkelsen is nothing if not committed and for the most part seems to enjoy and participate in the action to a high degree. A long corridor brawl sees Mikkelsen break bones, snap necks and shoot like the best assassin action heroes before him. It’s a shame Åkerlund couldn’t apply that sensibility to the rest of the film.
The mixing of the two worlds present in the film is what really kills it. They jar like jokes at a funeral and make the film seem cobbled together. The scenes that feature Mikkelsen and occasionally Hudgens are the best but these performances demand a better movie, a better script and probably a better director. Åkerlund has won Grammys for his music video and concert film work with Madonna and I have high hopes for his black metal movie Lords of Chaos but Polar is a stain on his career that’s not so easily washed out.