After a failed anti-Nazi sabotage mission leaves his eleven comrades dead, a Norwegian resistance fighter finds himself fleeing the Gestapo through the snowbound reaches of Scandinavia.
ActorsStarring: Thomas Gullestad, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Marie Blokhus, Mads Sjøgård Pettersen, Martin Kiefer, Kristoffer Jørgensen, Maria Grazia Di Meo, Håkon T. Nielsen, Håkon Smeby, Kim Jøran Olsen, J.I. Falck, David Vekony, Vegar Hoel, Alexander Zwart, Jonas Fredheim, Anders Wang, Jørn Magnus Karlsen, Mathilde Sofie Henriksen
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The opening scene of this movie about the true story of Operation Martin, and of Jan Baalsrud in particular, puts us straight in the middle of the action. It’s WWII, 1943, and twelve saboteurs have been sent from England into occupied Norway to take out a German air control tower. Something has gone wrong in the planning and they mistakenly make contact with a Nazi collaborator instead of the local resistance. Before they have the chance to salvage their plan, the Nazis have caught up with them and captured eleven of them. The 12th man manages to escape them, leading him on a trek through the wilderness to flee to neutral Sweden whilst being hunted by unrelenting Nazis and his life being threatened even more by the harsh Norwegian winter.
Baalsrud (Thomas Gullestad) has lost a shoe during his initial escape, which at temperatures around -30C / -20F does not bode well for his toes. Unfortunately for him, this is onlhy the beginning of what he will have to endure in this brutal environment. Luckily, along the way he finds himself helped by different local Norwegians at various stages of his flight. The Nazis are never far away however; the local SS Sturmbahnführer, Kurt Stage (Jonathan Rhys Myers), takes pride in never in his career having let anyone escape. When it becomes clear, just after he has confirmed to Himmler that all had been killed, that in fact there is one saboteur who seems be getting away, Stage tenaciously hunts for Baalsrud.
After suffering incredible hardship for some two months, Baalsrud finally narrowly escapes the Nazis via Finland into Sweden, where he recovers in hospital for seven months before later returning to England to rejoin the fight.
Regrettably, the story is more interesting than the movie. The first half hour to 45 minutes is quite good, with a gripping and tense storyline and some beautiful photography; then in the next half hour as things begin to ‘settle’ a bit for Baalrsud, there is space for the viewer to start reflecting on things. As the movie slowly progresses, you begin to wonder why Baalsrud is hailed as a war hero. We don’t really know much about the failed mission and its importance in the war effort, even though we get some glimpses by means of flashbacks of what went wrong. Worse, despite Baalsrud being the central hero of the movie, we never really get to know him; we don’t know his history and his interactions with all the people around him are terribly mundane and in no way help us understand who he is, what drives him, and why the different locals go through such lengths to help him escape.
It seems this true story has somewhat of a local legend status in Norway. This movie is a remake of 1957’s ‘Nine Lives’ which was nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar at the time, and voted Best Norwegian Movie of All Time in the ’90s. There is also an annual 9-day remembrance march followig Baalsruds’ escape route. If you are familiar with this legend, this re-telling may be good enough as you already understand the background and you buy in to the hero-status of Baalsrud. This movie in its own right however doesn’t quite deliver on that. In fact, the real heroes of this story are the locals, who risk their lives to help Baalsrud. For the last hour of the movie, Baalsrud is not much more than a half-dead frozen popsicle being kept alive and carted around between hide-outs by these locals. Had the script shifted its focus after the first hour to truly centre around the underground members and their workings and planning to help Baalsrud, it may have been a more interesting and better paced watch, whilst also recognising their role as true heroes risking it all to get him out of the country.
All in all it is certainly not a bad movie; after a solid start, it somewhat disappoints by being too long, too shallow, and surprisingly, failing to make you care all that much for the hero it seeks to celebrate.