What happens when you want to get back to nature only to find that nature is not inviting at all? If you’re mid-life crisis-stricken Martin (Rasmus Bjerg), the hangdog protagonist of “Wild Men,” you could imagine that after 10 days of trying to battle it out in the wild as an inland Viking, it’s good would be time to hike out of the Norwegian forests and buy snacks, beer, cigarettes and other necessities at a mini market at a roadside gas station.
The problem is, as we see in the opening minutes of Thomas Daneskov’s slightly absurd comedy, while Martin thought about slipping his iPhone into his animal skin robe before fleeing the constraints of civilization, he didn’t bring any money with him. And the understandably confused clerk behind the counter isn’t willing to trade when Martin offers skins and an ax as payment for his items. One thing leads to another, Martin accidentally becoming a fugitive criminal – and eventually a local police officer in his 60s named Øyvind (Bjørn Sundquist) shows up at the crime scene to call in some bastards and ask the clerk the obvious question, “What makes a danish viking for business? have here?”
The wonderful thing about “Wild Men,” a film that suggests a dream team collaboration between Hal Hartley and the Coen brothers, is that everyone involved takes themselves extremely seriously, even if they act and speak in ways that viewers will not understand Able to smile, giggle and occasionally laugh out loud. Director Daneskov and co-writer Morten Pape refrain from ever pushing too hard, and their players are perfectly attuned to their cunning restraint.
As he carries on in his faux miner’s garb and embraces the joys of going back to basics – after trying and failing to lift his spirits with such mundane pursuits as hiking and Ironman racing – Bjergs Martin sees and sounds more than one hardly ridiculous, but behaves like it’s a perfectly rational (albeit a bit extreme) approach to asserting one’s masculinity. He genuinely doesn’t want to harm anyone – not the mini-market’s vendors, of course, and certainly not his ailing wife Anne (Sofie Gråbøl), whom he left behind with their two young daughters while he pretended to be attending a “team building seminar”. And his innocent naivety, brilliantly conveyed by Bjerg, goes a long way to maintaining our interest in his misguided and undeniably egocentric quest for ‘adventure’.
Coincidentally for both men, Martin takes a traveling companion with him on his idiosyncratic journey into the wilderness: Musa (Zaki Youssef), a drug smuggler who was injured after his car hit a moose, a mishap he suspects he suffered killed two accomplices (and, not coincidentally, left him a bag stuffed with loot). Martin patches up Musa – who doesn’t seriously question his new-found benefactor’s Viking leanings – and manages to wield a bow and arrow just impressively enough to subdue two cops who, frankly, are far more interested in running a drug smuggler trip than catch a supermarket robber. The boys become friends as, despite Øyvind’s best efforts, they head off in a hot pursuit to an enclave of like-minded people who Martin hopes are country dwellers and swearing by the Viking lifestyle.
Unfortunately, this enclave turns out to be little more than a gathering of cosplayers where credit cards can be charged for groceries and jewelry. Even more unfortunate is that the above accomplices who were presumed dead are not.
There are three or four parallel storylines that intersect sporadically in “Wild Men,” but that still leaves more than enough room for Daneskov and Pape to throw a gratifying amount of disposable fun stuff into the mix, like repeated references to a police dog , who always seems to be on vacation and “doing dog things,” or choosing a husband at the worst possible time to refute his wife’s claims that he “lacks altruism.” The resolution of the various manhunts is harrowing, if not unexpectedly harsh – but even here a sense of restraint remains. And to make matters worse, one of the final images is a poignantly melancholy nod to Akira Kurosawa’s “Ikiru,” of all things. That too will probably make you smile.
https://variety.com/2022/film/reviews/wild-men-review-vildmaend-1235297099/ Wild Men review: A midlife crisis leads to Viking cosplay