oht over the past two decades Danish cinema has increasingly proven to have a strong aptitude for emotional and nuanced drama and intelligent engagement, especially through the making of documentaries, with conflicts abroad. This feature film inspired by a true story, from fellow director Niels Arden Oplev (who directed the original film Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) skillfully combines these two strands to tell the story of Daniel Rye, a young Danish photographer who was captured by Isis in Syria in 2013.
Filmed in a hand-waving fashion – such a signature of the 95 Year Dogma that it almost feels like a retro assignment – the plot methodically follows Daniel’s story, firmly holding the expressive face of Esben Smed, who raises the physical challenges of the role. For starters, he has to convincingly pose as Rye when he was young enough to be a contender for the Danish Gymnastics team, although a stuntman probably performed most of the stunts we see.
In the film, after an injury ruins Rye’s athletic career, a turn towards photojournalism takes him to Syria where he falls into the hands of Isis, who was barely known at the time. They demand a multi-million dollar ransom, but the Danish government is sticking to its policy of not negotiating with terrorists.
The film smoothly alternates between Rye’s family at home, struggling to raise funds without letting the story get into the press, and Rye himself in Syria. Oplev does not hesitate to describe the torture and suffering endured by Rye and his fellow inmates, including James Foley, an American journalist whose fate has become an international story.
Anyone who followed the news at the time knows the tragedies to come, but the point here is not what happened, but why. There is empathy for all who are marked by this conflict, even in a strange way for John (Amir El-Masry), the British-accented Isis jailer who makes Rye’s life a hell but which reveals itself in close up to be consumed by its own kind of psychic pain. .
It’s another movie about a white European embroiled in a Middle Eastern war that they barely seem to understand, but in its own words, it’s a well-told story.