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Wild Men review – messy but winning Nordic buddy comedy

Though it can hardly compete with The Northman, this Viking cosplay adventure boasts gorgeous scenery and charming turns

From TV to video games to Robert Eggers’s recent masterwork, The Northman, authentic Viking culture seems to be having a real moment, audiences embracing the mud, blood, snow, and furs of life in Dark Ages Scandinavia. None of us, though, have got as quite into the spirit of its as Wild Men protagonist Martin (Rasmus Bjerg) who, after a sort of mental or spiritual break, ups sticks from his cosy family life in Denmark to the forests and mountains of Norway to live freely off the land.

It’s the sort of zany decision that you assume may lend itself to a sort of slapstick fish-out-of-water comedy, but Wild Men only runs in that direction for a short while, swiftly establishing Martin as actually a half-decent barbarian (he can stitch up wounds well and is a mean shot with his bow and arrow). Instead, Thomas Daneskov’s film is concerned with exploring what might drive a person away from modern society before suddenly throwing real life danger into Martin’s self-imposed exile.

As Martin hunts across Norwegian foothills, three Danish criminals are transporting a bag of dirty cash to smuggle back to Denmark via ferry before crashing their car into an elk, injuring all of them. Escaping the crash with the money and a nasty leg wound is their meekest member, Musa (Zaki Youssef), who eventually stumbles upon Martin, with whom he forms a tentative alliance as they’re both heading towards the coast. Soon enough, though, the somewhat bumbling local police are on their tail, alerted by Musa’s known criminality and a farcical heist recently pulled by Martin.

It’s an overly busy story both on paper and in practice – I haven’t even mentioned Martin’s exasperated wife Anne (The Killing’s Sofie Grabol) or the chatty widower police captain, each of whom get their own subplot – which can get in the way of the nice character work being done with both Martin and Musa. Wild Men is absolutely at its best when it just lets this pair amble about together, bantering in the midst of their archaic quest, Daneskov capturing that odd but often beautiful feeling of being able to open up to a stranger, confident that you’re unlikely to meet them again.

Bjerg and Youssef are both charming leads with a fun, friendly chemistry – when the pair share a laugh, it’s hard not to join in – and it’s their rapport that keeps Wild Men compelling even as its script goes off the rails. The whole thing is a bit of a tonal mishmash, especially once Musa’s nasty criminal buddies start catching up with him, bringing a darkness that meshes poorly with the goofy looseness of the rest of the film before an exciting but strange climax that plays like a sort of caveman John Wick.

I’m not sure that Wild Men really gets to the heart of the questions it’s asking about modern society and the numbing effect it has on people, particularly men, who yearn for the purpose that a harder life might grant them. Yet, it does have some clever observations along the way – Musa’s fury at a group of caveman-cosplaying white people choosing to make their lives ‘more like a refugee camp’ for no reason at all is affecting – and its lead duo make for very amiable company. As a Nordic adventure, it’s hardly giving Eggers a run for his money, but it’s still a solid buddy comedy set amidst some absolutely gorgeous scenery.

Wild Men is now showing in UK cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema.

Where to watch

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