Appellate Judge James A. Stewart has just forgotten about George Bailey.
"Johan Falk. No relatives, no girlfriend."
What kind of Christmas story would you want to find under the Christmas tree? Most people, I suppose, would want a classic like It's a Wonderful Life, with some wanting something updated like A Christmas Story.
What kind of Christmas story would a miserable cynic want under their tree? Perhaps something like Zero Tolerance, the first movie in MHz's Johan Falk Trilogy. The Swedish cop's story opens on Christmas Eve, when he interrupts his one-night stand to get Christmas dinner from Burger King—and stumbles into a jewel heist that takes a Santa's life. Soon, he's spending his holiday break on the run.
The DVD blurb claims these action yarns are based on true stories, but I'd say it's only in the form of fresh MacGuffins. These movies were released from 1999 to 2003; IMDb shows that there's a more recent series of Johan Falk flicks.
Facts of the Case
Johan Falk Trilogy contains three movies about the Gothenburg detective, each on its own disc:
• Zero Tolerance—Johan, falsely accused of beating a suspect in a jewel heist, flees custody to make his case and clear his name. He befriends Helàn (Marie Richardson, Jakob Eklund's real-life girlfriend), a witness to the heist, and her daughter Nina.
• Executive Protection—While attending a funeral for his surrogate dad, Johan investigates a burglary and soon realizes that a textiles manufacturer is in danger from an ex-Stasi officer now running a protection racket.
• The Third Wave—An unemployed Johan heads for a job interview with his former boss, who's heading Europe's new Organized Crime Unit. He arrives in the middle of a shootout, and helps a woman escape hit men as his ex-boss is slain.
The chain of events leading to Johan Falk's flight from his colleagues doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but I don't think logic was the first consideration in these movies. The first priority seems to have been action; everything leads to a chase or a fight. The fighting's good—Jakob Eklund is adept at realistic hand-to-hand combat—and the car or foot chases are skillfully directed by Anders Nilsson. The best, in The Third Wave, finds Johan's friends and foes battling it out in the midst of a violent protest of an EU Summit, with the random events in the riot alternately helping and hindering the heroes.
Throughout the stories, the production team adeptly finds desolate locations—a country house, a roadside motel—for Johan Falk's stands against attackers. This make the tension a bit more palpable, since Johan's odds are as remote as the settings.
As Johan Falk, Jakob Eklund gradually grew on me. His loner loser status at first is exaggerated—everyone knows that subs are the proper Christmas Eve dinner—but as he grows closer to Helàn over the course of three movies, Falk turns out to be a human being. As the stories unfold, you get the feeling that circumstances—namely, the fact that there's a burglary, chase, or shootout any time he goes anywhere with Helàn—might have kept him alone so long. As Helàn, Marie Richardson makes a strong partner, cautioning him when necessary but loyal and courageous. Each movie is a little better than its predecessor, with the excitement kicked up a notch.
These movies do have a tendency to poke at authority, whether they're showing that Falk is fined for going on the lam or leaving a security team that's employed by the bad guys wondering whom to side with. The underlying theme of mobsters taking over legit businesses also has an anti-establishment ring to it.
Everything looks great, from the aerial shots of a caravan of vehicles moving together to protect against attack to the gleaming nighttime city buildings.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As you'd imagine, Johan Falk Trilogy is rather violent and sometimes bloody. There's also nudity. If this isn't your idea of heartwarming holiday fare, you might want to skip it.
It's also full of subtitles, just in case you actually want to pay attention to the plot. The Third Wave has some dialogue in English, though.
Just in case you didn't get the joke, I'll also point out that, although I've had subs for Christmas dinner on my own, I take and recommend Anthony Bourdain's advice, keeping up with my omelet skills for any dating dining emergencies.
There's not much to say about Johan Falk Trilogy, other than hold on to your hat when watching. If that's the magic phrase for you, damn the subtitles and go full steam ahead. It's also a good contrarian stocking stuffer.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: MHz Networks
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