To understand Erik Skjoldbjærg's Narvik, consider two scenes from the film. First, take the one where Ingrid (Kristine Hartgen) notices her husband, Gunnar (Carl Martin Eggesbø), being held at gunpoint. Observe her reaction. She doesn't scream or make her anxiousness overly visible. In other words, she doesn't overreact like a typical "movie person in a dramatic situation." This realism is what you will find in the performances of the actors in Narvik.
Now consider the scene where the Norwegian and German soldiers point their guns at one another for the first time. It's nighttime, and red light radiates from behind the German army like death rays (Danger Alert: They are nothing but bad news). The scene is well crafted, but it's devoid of tension. Sadly, that's what Narvik mostly is: A competently shot movie lacking in emotions.
Narvik sounds very promising on paper. After all, it's about characters who perform their duties and do whatever they can to survive. Ingrid becomes the translator for a German named Wussow (Christoph Bach). That doesn't mean she supports Germany or is a Hitler worshiper. She becomes an interpreter because no one else is fluent in German. Ingrid just offers her services to facilitate communication between two opposing forces. Later, when she discloses the location of two English soldiers, she does so to save her son from an infection.
So on one side, we have Ingrid, the "traitor," and on the other side, we have Gunnar, the patriot. That sounds like a meaty material for intense drama. However, Narvik doesn't do much with this potential. The best it can do is show us Gunnar and Ingrid quarreling with each other. The movie uses that scene to simply spoon-feed its intentions and ideas to the audience. Narvik fails to explode with dramatic power because it suppresses itself. It seems to be merely translating its script into a series of images without imbuing them with an emotional charge. There are very few exceptions. One of them arrives when Ingrid breaks curfew and is asked for her papers (this scene contains more tension than any of the action sequences). The other good thing about Narvik is that it does not shy away from displaying Norwegian soldiers as (scared) humans. Notice how some of them sneak out of the group when they find out they are not going back to their quarters or how the soldiers briefly fall back during heavy fire.
In contrast to them, the German soldiers come across as determined. The movie doesn't succumb to depicting them as evil caricatures. They respectfully lead a woman and her son to a safe location, and Wussow gets a scene where he politely expresses his feelings to someone.
The gunfight scenes are pale and lack vigor. You don't feel you are in the middle of the action, in close proximity to blood and danger. On top of that, you are distanced from the characters as they live less and urgently move the plot more. Alas, Narvik fails to be a rousing war film as well as a compelling drama. It tells us many things, but we don't feel much of it.
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