Tuesday, 7 June 2016
I miss this Lena Headey. The Lena Headey who starred in several low-key indie films like this long before the Game of Thrones nerds became obsessed with her and every role that came her way was ostensibly a warrior queen.
So what of Aberdeen? Well it's a small and well performed curiosity from Norwegian director Hans Petter Moland which follows the increasingly disastrous roadtrip of estranged father and daughter Tomas (Stellan Skarsgård) and Headey's Kaisa (pronounced Kaiser). He's a chronic alcoholic who works on an oil ring in his native Norway, she's a hardbitten professional young Scot whose task it is to arrive in Oslo and escort him to the deathbed of her mother, Helen (Charlotte Rampling) in Aberdeen.
Right from the off it is clear that, on first appearance, the difference in nationality between isn't the only yawning chasm between father and daughter. She patently loathes him for his alcoholism and it's hard not to feel sympathy for her taking such an extreme stance; he's so paralytic he gets them barred from boarding a flight of any kind and, resorting to a North Sea crossing, he promptly throws up on her during the drive to the ferry. Skarsgård delivers a very fine performance as the shambolic Tomas, a man with little social, self or even spatial awareness. Virtually permenently tanked, he is forever walking the tightrope between making us, the audience, laugh or feel extreme pity and disgust for. Like all desperate addicts, he has plummeted the depths and taken residence in the rut there as shown in one of the film's key scenes, when he is found on his knees in the street gulping at the beer a series of braying thugs deign to pour all over him. One of the very best things about Aberdeen is that it approaches the notion of alcohol or substance addiction and misuse in a completely unglamourous and non-romantic way.
However, the film knows that first impressions can be deceptive and slowly, we learn that Kaisa, for all her contempt at her father's obvious weak nature, is in fact a chip off the old block. Kaisa's poison proves to be cocaine and, when high its clear she a very short fuse and an equally self destructive streak. We realise that both the fearlessness and sharp wit that Headey so beautifully conveys is actually a dangerous thing and that, just like her father, Kaisa just doesn't know when to stop. Both performances are evenly, brilliantly matched and Headey handles the Scottish accent remarkably well.
Praise too for Ian Hart as trucker Clive, a Good Samaritan the pair come across along the way and who may or may not be a saviour for Kaisa should she ever confront her demons and make the change. It's the kind of really well measured supporting performance we've long since come to expect from Hart and it contributes to the piece overall.
Unfortunately, away from its solid character study, Aberdeen comes apart a little. The story around both Tomas and Kaisa is a little rambling and the roadtrip takes too many wrong turns and cul-de-sacs for my liking. As is often the case with a foreign filmmaker working in the English language and, in this case, partly in the UK, the beats are a little off. Some of the drama and plot twists just don't pay off and seem hasty and unprepared, with revelations and seemingly key events arising too late and resolved too soon.
But you know what? Despite its flaws, Aberdeen really does not deserve the rather forgotten status it has 'achieved' in the last 16 years. It's the kind of film that was released in 2000 and has been overlooked ever since and it really doesn't deserve that fate. It's not perfect, but it's easily worth giving a 100 minutes of your life to.