REVIEW: Shorta (2020)

“Shorta,” Still Image — Photo: Tine Harden / Jacob Møller / Scanbox.

Directed by Anders Ølholm & Frederik Louis Hviid — Screenplay by Anders Ølholm & Frederik Louis Hviid.

Shorta (which is apparently an Arabic word for ‘police’) is a Danish action-thriller about the so-called blue wall of silence, i.e. a tendency for police officers to withhold information and not report on their colleagues’ misconduct. The film follows two police officers — Jens (played by Simon Sears) and Mike (played by Jacob Lohmann) — who are on patrol. In the film, law enforcement has been asked not to go into the fictionalized ghetto ‘Svalegården’ since the last significant encounter between police officers and the inhabitants of Svalegården led to officers kneeling on the back of the neck of a young man, Talib Ben Hassi, who is, at the beginning of the film, in a coma.

Nevertheless, the two police officers decide to follow a vehicle into Svalegården. While in the ghetto, Mike harasses a young man that he has decided to stop and search for no reason at all, and, moments later, Mike and Jens find out that Talib Ben Hassi has died at the hospital. When the local community hears of this, the terrible news leads to a violent riot inside the ghetto. Soon Mike and Jens find themselves trapped inside an area that law enforcement is unable to enter safely, and they may have to fight tooth and nail if they are to get out safely.

As I was watching Shorta the other day, it occurred to me just how relevant and timely this film must’ve felt when it was released in theaters back in October 2020. Not only is this film about police misconduct and a code of silence, but the film’s disturbing opening scene also feels like it was ripped from the headlines. And, in a way, it was. At the beginning of the film, we hear the Talib Ben Hassi-character call out that he is unable to breathe, which is an uncomfortable reminder of George Floyd and Eric Garner’s last words. I am certain that Ølholm and Hviid were at least inspired by the phrase that Eric Garner popularized, just like it is obvious that their film is very much inspired by films such as Training Day and End of Watch.

I thought it was interesting how the two main characters were characterized and what arcs they went on. Mike starts out as a hateful and xenophobic officer who goes on patrol with Jens to convince him to abide by their code of silence, whereas Jens, at the beginning of the film, feels more like an audience surrogate, as he seems unsure about what he is going to report about his colleagues. Naturally, their relationship hits a rough patch and they are eventually separated in the maze-like ghetto. Mike’s arc is definitely the most interesting of the two, as his experience introduces him to several ‘good samaritans’ that Ølholm and Hviid want you to believe could open his eyes and make him less bigoted. However, I have to say that Jens’ character arc left something to be desired, just like it is disappointing how underwritten the inhabitants of Svalegården are, and I, generally, wanted more scenes with the characters in the ‘big brother’ program.

I thought the ending was very bold. In part because it, to me, suggested that one character’s arc was all for naught, which is not meant to suggest that I think it’s a problem with the film. In fact, I think that is its point. I know that there has been some criticism in Denmark that suggests that the film sides with its main characters, i.e. the police officers rather than the individuals in the ghetto. However, while I absolutely do think it is somewhat problematic that most of the characters that aren’t police officers are underwritten, one-note, or barely present in the film, I actually think that a scene towards the end of the film reveals that it is absolutely not on the main characters’ side, so to speak. I thought it was obvious that a substantial part of the end of the film was very critical of its main characters. I think this is a film about a frustratingly neverending negative circle, in spite of small hints at character growth.

One of the more iconic Danish crime films is Nicolas Winding Refn’s Pusher, which, along with its sequels, eventually earned fans around the world. While I doubt Anders Ølholm and Frederik Louis Hviid’s film will find as much success, their feature-length directorial debut, Shorta, is a thrilling action-heavy crime film that I, ultimately, liked quite a bit even though its bold ending was very bleak. With competently-executed action and timely social commentary, this is a pretty impressive debut film, even though it may not be extremely original. If Ølholm and Hviid wanted to make a David Ayer-esque police thriller, then I have to say that they did a pretty great job.

7.7 out of 10

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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