Charlotte Rampling is dying of cancer and she hasn't told her family. Instead she simply asks her daughter, Lena Headey, to bring her ex-husband (were they married?) back to Scotland from Norway. She wants a reunion. It's a road movie.
This is a very Scandinavian movie and one of a wave of Scottish/Scandinavian co-productions around that time, along with Red Road, Breaking the Waves and Donkeys. It's dealing with addiction and broken families. There's humour, but it's so dry and understated that you could be forgiven for not noticing. I quite liked it, but it's about its characters rather than its plot and you couldn't pretend it's aiming for entertainment.
The main actors are Headey and her father Stellan Skarsgard, with strong back-up from Ian Hart. A film like this stands or falls on its acting and fortunately here it's all excellent.
1. Skarsgard's performance is the most attention-grabbing. He's playing an alcoholic who's both uncomfortable to watch and sympathetic. He'll make you wonder why anyone would want to drink. He embarrasses others and humiliates himself. However at the same time Skarsgard's not just portraying him as a monster, but instead often chooses to underplay him and bring out the pain, the self-pity and the intelligent, insightful man who's still in there. He handles his character's development delicately, of all things.
2. Lena Headey I hadn't heard of, but she was Sarah Connor on Fox's Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and she seems to be doing well in Hollywood too. Two of this film's imdb reviews are from Terminator fans who'd been hunting down her other work. (They really liked it.) Here she's playing someone nearly as broken as Skarsgard, a cocaine-taking loud-mouthed lawyer with no self-control and a talent for getting herself banned from places. She hates her parents. She has sex with people and can't get their names right. She's topless a lot. It feels fitting that her character's called Kaiser, although that's not the correct spelling ("Kaisa" - it's Finnish). She's in no way overshadowed by Skarsgard and instead is managing to match him, so together the two of them carry what could have been a thin film through their authentic and often hostile father-daughter relationship.
3. Ian Hart is merely a lorry driver who gives them a lift, but I found him so impressive that I've just been looking up his other roles. He's played John Lennon (twice), Dr. Watson (twice) and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, not to mention both Professor Quirrell and Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
. Here though he's a shaven-headed little bloke with big ears and dry line delivery. I also found him really funny. Admittedly I'm talking about the kind of understated humour that most people wouldn't recognise as humour at all, but I really responded to the clarity he brings to his role. He's funny when he's fighting, for instance. Those guys were bastards.
4. Rampling doesn't get much screen time, but you'll remember her.
This was Hans Petter Moland's first English-language film. He's also stressed that this film isn't autobiographical, although he did grow up in a family where there was alcohol abuse. It had been five years since his previous film and he's been working steadily since then, but this one didn't exactly set the box office alight. It never reached cinemas and it would seem that the BBFC never bothered giving it a certificate. Furthermore they shot it on only four million dollars and so couldn't afford to shoot in all the locations where the characters go. It's all really Glasgow. London is Glasgow. Liverpool is Glasgow. Even Aberdeen is Glasgow, which seems regrettable. Apparently Glaswegians find this distracting, since Moland didn't know enough not to keep Glasgow's most famous landmarks out of shot.
Personally though I found the film was full of geographical flavour, thanks to its accents. My mother's from Aberdeen and we used to go up there every year, so I presume the first Scot we hear must have an authentic Aberdeen accent because it gave me nostalgic flashbacks. There are all kinds of voices here, from Skarsgard's American-accented delivery to various different Scottish tones and lots of specific areas of England. This is probably an odd thing to enjoy in a film, but I loved its accents.
This is a simple film, following damaged characters on a journey. They don't get a Hollywood ending, but they do learn things about themselves. It's also very good for what it is, although if you go showing it to random people you're liable to get a "was that all?" reaction. The actors are excellent and that's pretty much all there is to know about it.