Jar City (2006)
By: Devon B. on May 11, 2009  | 
Madman (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced). Icelandic DD 2.0. English Subtitles. 90 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Baltasar Kormákur
Starring: Ingvar E. Sigurðsson, Ágústa Eva Erlendsdóttir, Björn Hlynur Haraldsson
Screenplay: Baltasar Kormákur
Country: Iceland
External Links
Purchase IMDB YouTube
Sometimes I'll watch a movie from another country to try and learn a bit about the country of origin, or at least its take on the slasher genre. What I learned from Mýrin (which translates as "The Swamp" but has been retitled Jar City for English speakers) is that in Iceland, takeway boiled sheep head is a delicacy. Maybe I've been a bit too harsh on McDonald's global marketing… unless they serve a McSheepynoggin in Iceland.

Don't get too excited when Jar City starts at Christmas time; it's not really a Christmas movie, even by my admittedly tenuous standards. It's really just this first scene, with the rest of the action taking place in winter, but not necessarily near the 25th of December.

In Jar City, an old man has been murdered. The police are called in, and they find a photo in the man's flat of the grave of a young girl. The photo leads the police back to an old rape case which was covered up by a corrupt and possibly also incompetent cop. The police dig deeper into the mystery and the interconnectedness of the town/country is brought to the fore as they search for the secret that someone is willing to kill for.

Firstly, don't read the synopsis on the back of the DVD, because it gives away too much. Instead you can read the blurbs on the front about how Jar City broke box office records in Iceland and won several of Iceland's top film awards. I can't imagine there were many other Icelandic films competing in 2006, but I guess a win is a win is a win.

Jar City is well acted and put together, and the film captures a sinking, depressed atmosphere very well, however I didn't find the mystery that engrossing. It was fine, but the movie really felt like an Icelandic episode of Unit One (that's Rejseholdet to you and me). I couldn't escape the idea that this felt more like an episode of a series than a feature film, with subplots seemingly needing more time to be fleshed out. This may be because Jar City is based on a book and things had to be dropped to fit the story on screen, but even that doesn't change the fact that I was not impressed with the mystery. The film isn't boring, and indeed has some sly comic relief and a very good black comedy sequence involving door to door investigation, but this isn't a foreign film that will completely wow you, and it doesn't feel particularly fresh. The film is getting some accolade, but I suspect that's mostly softcocks getting worked up over the tearjerker first scene.

Jar City is scheduled for a remake in 2010, but I really don't see the point. The small, somewhat isolated, population of Iceland is integral to the storyline, which won't translate if the film's set in most other countries. Maybe the remake will be set in Greenland. Aside from that, it's not like this is the cleverest mystery I've seen, and in fact Jar City doesn't even compete with a good episode of Wire In The Blood.
The film has a fair bit of grain, and this is sometimes very noticeable. There're also a few spots and specks. The image is otherwise sharp, so maybe the grain is intentional.
The audio is an Icelandic 2.0 track. Dialogue volume wavers, and if I turned the sound down to prevent sudden loud speech, other sounds would get too quiet. The melodramatic choral music seemed too loud as well, but that may just be because I didn't want to hear it. If I hadn't been reading subs but having to listen to what was being said, I think this would've been a hard disc to get the volume level right. Evidently there's a Region 2 DVD that has a 5.1 track, but that edition seems to have the aspect ratio cropped.
Extra Features
The trailer and trailers for a few other Madman releases.
The Verdict
If you're a huge fan of cop shows, especially Nordic ones, Jar City belongs in your must watch pile. If you're just in the mood for a decent film to distract you for 90 minutes, Jar City will do. While I'm not too fussed about the lack of extras, the disc presentation loses points for the patchy 2.0 mix.
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score

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