A modern gritty thriller with a classic noir twist, The Hunters is further proof of the quality of crime dramas to come out of Scandinavia in recent years. Swedish legend Rolf Lassgård truly embodies the no nonsense cop out for justice in this brilliantly constructed and engaging detective story.
After a dangerous career as a policeman in Stockholm, Erik Bäckström returns to his hometown for the funeral of his father. After reuniting with his brother Leif, he decides to settle down and joins the local police force, who are amidst an investigation into illegal poaching going on around the small hunting village. What first seems like a simple whodunit quickly takes on a more personal twist as Erik begins to suspect that Leif may be involved.
In classic noir style, the idea of a lone investigator entering a small community with its own unique moral code is used expertly throughout to construct a conflict that lasts the entire length of the film. The first strength of this technique is the presence of lead Rolf Lassgård, who perfectly fits into the role of a strong, silent and dedicated sleuth attempting to stop a crime that is protected by the town’s conflicting ideals. Standing tall at 6 ft 4’’, Lassgård is an impressive screen presence and one that is superbly watchable. Having played the role of Wallander in the original series (later taken by Kenneth Branagh in the English remake), he is eminently suitable for Erik and makes full use of his size and emotive features to make his character so engaging.
This is made all the more effective by the story that unfolds between Erik and his brother Leif. Whilst the illegal poaching of the wildlife around the town is of course the main plot point that the narrative employs, it is this conflicting and ever changing relationship that propels it forward. At first, their familial bond is warm and nostalgic without being sentimental, all the better to note the changing mood between the two as the film surges ahead. Lennart Jähkel slowly builds up his character of Leif from a jovial and fun loving singer in the local choir to an all together different sort of man, one who is unpredictable and ruthless when called for. He embodies the small rural town code of survivalist brutality, which of course makes sparks fly when in contact with his brother’s more morally pure mentality. This combination of ideological differences and familial rivalry is one that is intensely absorbing.
Whilst the drama of The Hunters is truly its strength, there are downsides to the film. The slow boiling nature of its growth requires patience, as it takes a considerable amount of time for things to really get moving. The supporting cast are effective in their roles, although fairly nondescript as merely a bunch of morally corrupt individuals with little actual substance. This does, of course, focus the attention more on the two brothers, but not until this friction really blooms, making the lead up to it a tiring endeavor. However, it is certainly worth sticking with.
Thanks to its tense rural location and simmering detective story, The Hunters has the cerebral appeal of The Killing with the menacing atmosphere of Straw Dogs. Lassgård is supremely watchable as the consummate policeman Erik, as is Lennert Jähkel as his scheming brother. Known in its native country as Jägarna, this film has everything to offer, from its modern use of classic noir characteristics to its character-driven story, and should not be missed.