Binge-r #89: Occupied + Come Sunday
OCCUPIED S1 + S2
Streaming Service: Netflix
Availability: All 18 episodes now streaming
If nothing else, the geopolitical upheavals of the last few years have made Netflix’s Norwegian political thriller Occupied look increasingly relevant. When the first season was produced in 2015 the idea of Russia calmly annexing Norway’s energy industry while the United States looked away was an intriguing what if. The recently added second season, coinciding with the age of Putin, irregular warfare, and Trump’s detachment appears prescient. Here the distinction between forceful diplomacy and covert coercion is irrevocably entangled, and the uneasy landscape revealed makes for a drama that is both thoughtful and tense.
Look past the convoluted back story of Norway voting in a Greens-like government that shuts down the country’s oil and gas production, just as the rest of Europe needs to replace absent product from the war-torn Gulf States. The focus is how a small nation deals – or doesn’t – with an infringement of sovereignty. Norway can’t oppose Russia militarily, as the new Prime Minister Jesper Berg (Henri Mestad) personally learns, so the focus isn’t armed resistance but the changes in the months afterwards. Russian troops aren’t on Norway’s streets, but the country’s spirit is splintered and altered in increasingly dangerous ways.
“We aren’t students,” Berg tells reproachful journalist Thomas Eriksen (Vegar Hoel), and the show examines the realities of wielding power versus youthful principles in both public and personal contexts. Supported by the European Union, the Russians – Vladimir Putin isn’t referred to – are unknowable adversaries, with their own beliefs and tactics, and you start to see how social structures and agreed upon conditions fray. Berg’s bodyguard, Hans Martin Djupvik (Eldar Skar), who unwittingly becomes a conduit to the occupiers, is one of those who tries to hold the centre, tamping down trouble so that a withdrawal happens. The writing treats each character’s outlook as valid, until they clash head on.
Business as usual starts to break down, and if the plot still appears unlikely consider how a country like Australia relates to the might of China in real life. Thomas’ wife Bente Norum (Ane Dahl Torp) has her failing restaurant saved by free-spending Russian clientele, and no decision goes without judgment; the original Quisling was a Norwegian who sided with the Nazis during World War II. The direction is brisk and workmanlike, with wonky digital effects, but it does capture a curious mood through the modern Scandinavian architecture that fills the frame. Sometimes the players pause to regard this forward looking world and you see them wondering how quickly it could be lost, or whether it already has.
>> Old Show/New Season: Netflix has added the second instalment of the gripping Israeli espionage thriller Fauda, a series where obsession transcends ideology in a first season I previously wrote about [full review here].
Come Sunday (Netflix, 2018, 105 minutes): The English actor Chiwetel Ejiofor instils a sense of conviction in his performances that is authentically engrained as opposed to theatrically conceived. He’s been a boon to films as diverse as Kinky Boots, 12 Years a Slave and Doctor Strange, and he excels in this independent drama as a true believer coming to terms with his doubts. Ejiofor plays Pentecostal preacher Carlton Pearson, who suddenly decides that Hell doesn’t exist because it would be a condemnation of the God he loves. When his sermons at his megachurch in Oklahoma reflect his uncertainty, Carlton’s turned on by parishioners who rely on his knowing strength. Director Joshua Marston (Maria Full of Grace) has a feel for individuals at odds with their insular communities, and if the struggle is spiritual then the movie tidily illustrates it with a succession of supporting players – including Condola Rashad, Jason Segel, and Lakeith Stanfield – who provide leverage for Ejiofor. The result is too ordered, but Ejiofor is nonetheless outstanding as a bearer of the word who can no longer always speak the language.
Also New on Netflix: An American gangster film told by a black filmmaker (Mario Van Peebles) for a black audience, New Jack City (1991, 100 minutes) is a vainglorious mix of social commentary and criminal excess with Wesley Snipes, Chris Rock and Ice-T; The Walk (2015, 123 minutes) isn’t as good as the documentary that inspired it (Man on Wire), but the conclusion of Robert Zemeckis’ high-wire drama is virtuosic digital filmmaking.
New on SBS On Demand: A paean to the liberating promise of punk rock, Good Vibrations (2012, 99 minutes) recounts the tale of a record store and its owner, Terri Hooley (Richard Dormer), who faced down the Troubles in 1970s Belfast; In Times of Fading Light (2016, 97 minutes) is a drama about the final days of communist East Germany, with the great Bruno Ganz as a party figurehead whose birthday celebration reveals the country’s decay.
New on Stan: There’s no real antagonist, but Steven Soderbergh is such a masterful director that his hillbilly heist tale Logan Lucky (2017, 119 minutes) is an easy, delectable pleasure starring Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Riley Keough, and a never happier Daniel Craig; Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe make an excellent pair of 1970s L.A. investigators in Shane Black’s cop buddy movie throwback The Nice Guys (2016, 116 minutes).
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