As the latest actor to play Thomas Harris’ notorious fictional cannibalistic psychiatrist, Mads Mikkelsen is currently in the midst of being elevated from cult film and TV icon to mainstream stardom. Mikkelsen is that rare breed of performer, equally at home being either a leading man or a character actor. Never failing to deliver an intriguing screen performance, Mikkelsen is an actor ever cautious Hollywood studios can cast secure in the knowledge that not only will he deliver the goods but that his screen persona has a strong enough recognition factor to attract an audience. Such is the confidence in his latest project, Hannibal, that several cable networks were reportedly willing to step into the breach and buy the series in the event that NBC declined to order a second season. Capitalising on his new found fame within the American market, Mikkelsen is currently shooting a Western, The Salvation, and recently leant his vocal talents to the forthcoming Kung Fu Panda 3.
Within the English speaking world, Mads Mikkelsen first came to prominence playing the villain in the 2006 James Bond reboot Casino Royale. Cast as a financier of international terrorist activity, Mikkelson’s underplaying of the part conveyed a sense of vulnerability and cold steel which made the character all too believable. Eschewing arch theatrics that came to be part and parcel of a tired franchise, Mikkelson made the viewer accept the possibility that figures like Le Chiffre might be exploiting our economic system to fund the activity of groups that are determined to destroy our political, social and cultural institutions. Mikkelson joined the pantheon of Bond villains having recently completed principal photography on a Swedish action thriller, Exit, which also explored the corrosive impact of high risk speculative forms of capitalism.
After spending several years working for an IT investment company Jesper Kärrbrink and Håkan Ramsin decided to write a pot boiling novel about an innocent man on the run after being accused of murder. Pooling their knowledge of the industry combined with a mutual love for American film and TV thrillers, most notably The Fugitive, they produced a page turning thriller that came to the attention of Swedish writer and director Peter Lindmark. Enthralled by the novel’s overall story structure Lindmark began crafting an adaptation which had greater layers of moral ambiguity.
Produced several years before the global financial crisis erupted, Exit is a remarkable thriller. Viscerally exciting and socially conscious, the film shines a light onto an unethical and destructive form of financial services. Shot through with an acute genre awareness, Exit pays homage to films like The Fugitive but transcends them thanks to a degree of intelligence in the scripting process that transforms what could all too easily have been an innocent man on the run storyline into a murkier affair in which inevitability is tossed out of the window. Motives and personal histories may not be quite what they seem at first. From certainty to uncertainty, Lindmark takes us on a voyage awash with ever increasing incertitude and feverish jeopardy.
Mikkelson plays Thomas Skepphult, a highly successful venture capitalist who is at the top of his game. A partner in a flourishing firm, he knows which rules to break or bend. Cautious with the reputation of his firm, Nova Investments, he engages in the long game. Information is essential to Thomas, he needs to know all the variables before even reaching negotiations.
Unable to tolerate the reckless activity of partner Morgan Nordenstråle (Samuel Fröler) Thomas and Nova Investment’s other principal shareholder Wilhelm Rahmberg (Börje Ahlstedt) have no option but to fire the miscreant. Morgan’s father was an architect in the success of Nova Investment so being told that he very nearly destroyed the company is a bitter blow. With the walls of his world tumbling down Morgan exits the room on the pretext of collecting a photograph of his family. Whilst in his private office Morgan takes aim with a shotgun and blows his brans out. Selling the tragedy to the viewers Lindmark shows us a headless corpse dripping blood all over a picture of a family…
Seven years later and Thomas Skepphult is king of his domain. Married with a daughter, an expensive waterfront property, boat, and, ironically, a financially secure future courtesy of the very deal which led to the dismissal of Morgan Nordenstråle. Having seen the shares in the investment rise seven hundred percent Thomas believes that market conditions are ripe for selling to a rival group but first he needs approval from minority shareholders. The trade is openly challenged in a public meeting on the basis of the purchaser’s ethical practices. To avoid the deal falling through Thomas engages in a bit of horse trading with smooth operator Gabriel Mörk (Johan Rabaeus). In the seven years since Morgan’s suicide Thomas has learnt a trick or three about how to play his opponents in a business deal so withdrawing from a planned oil investment to reduce Mörk’s tax liability is a price worth paying if it means that Nova Investment can offload its shares in Cataegis and reap a huge profit.
Having tamed the metaphorical beast, Thomas prepares to slay demon. Selling the shares should be a swift and clean transaction. One that will transform Nova Investment’s fortunes. However, representatives from the Belarus based company supposed to be purchasing this stock have other ideas. Information has come to light surrounding the founder and owner of Cataegis that has made Extreme Capital Group unwilling to accept the terms on the table.
Denied a final hurrah. Wilheim announces his decision to retire and gives Thomas the keys to the kingdom. Dreams of living in sunnier climes with his wife Louise (Kristina Törnqvist) are destined never to be fulfilled for that very same night Wilheim is murdered.
Arrested on suspicion of murder, Thomas is plunged into a world in which a player on the other side is pulling all the strings. Someone that knows him intimately and is able to anticipate his every move has laid a series of traps designed to destroy his life. With his family in mortal danger Thomas must escape from police custody to protect them, prove his innocence, and confront the killer.
Detective Malm (Ia Langhammer) thinks that Wilheim’s murder is a simple open and shut case. Steadfast in her conviction that she has proved the means, method, and motive Malm’s primary quest is to recapture Thomas and ensure he stands trial. Reprising a trope from TV and film versions of The Fugitive, the boundaries of her investigation become ever more liquid the longer Thomas is at large. What began as a homicide case becomes a journey into a dark world in which nothing is what it seems at first glance.
With a generic template in place Lindmark embraces the forms and conventions and transforms them into something quite extraordinary. Playing with the script’s theme of corruption and contamination he gets starts overturning expectations and subverting tropes. The unflappable hero who must wage war with an unseen foe is replaced with a more ambiguous figure. His true nature is one of the many mysteries blended into a script that reveals the beauty of its construction on second viewing. Further proof of a creative team operating in pursuit of a shared vision is that the the enigmas running throughout the film are cunningly communicated by the cinematographer.
Crammed with conundrums, Exit’s sharp screenplay tosses the viewer into a sea of suspicion and then catapults a further barrage of brain twisters. If Thomas’ wife (Kirsty Torhaug) knows so little about his life before they met and his current business dealings how certain are we that he’s not reaping the rewards of his past behaviour?
Far more than just a European clone of The Fugitive, Exit is a white knuckle descent into a debased and perverted business environment. Even white knight Fabian von Klerking, played by True Blood‘s Alexander Skarsgård, moral compass is eroded when he’s forced to deal with the very man who broke his father. By resisting temptation and remaining true to his beliefs Fabian sets off on a path that will lead to him being infected with the stench of malfeasance.
When casting Mikkelson to play Le Chiffre in Casino Royale the producers must have had access to an early cut of Exit, two sequences are lifted wholesale and recreated within the Bond movie.
Bewitching, sensational, and blood-tingling, Exit is an ingenious suspense filled movie overflowing with tension.
Exit is available on DVD from Amazon: