As an American, I tend to think of “crime noir” as an American phenomenon, whether it’s the bleak, sprawling citified L.A. noir, or the gritty, rural redneck noir, where most of my own writing ends up. Luckily for all of us, though, the rest of the world has its own ideas of what crime noir is and isn’t.
Scandinavia in particular really nails the genre, in both written and visual form. From the groundbreaking Swedish/Danish crime series, “The Bridge” and the original Danish version of “The Killing” to the massively popular novels of Jo Nesbo and Stieg Larsson (The Snowman and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, respectively), our global neighbors to the north excel in delivering in noirish crime that focuses on characters and their strengths and weaknesses and the human psyche involved in crimes rather than an expository plot explained by pretty Hollywood types.
Enter into this equation the tiny, relatively crime-free nation of Iceland. Ok, maybe not technically Scandinavia, but, close enough for this conversation. It’s cold, it’s gritty, and it is expertly executed by creator and director Baltasar Kormákur Samper (among others) and a cast that does not suffer from bad acting. Ever.
The first season follows Andri Olafsson (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson), the chief of police in a small, remote — and frigid — town in Iceland, who tries to solve the murder of a former townsman whose mutilated corpse is recovered by fishermen close to the town’s shore. And, like any small town, there are secrets and histories, feuds and grudges, all brought to the surface in their own time and with maximum effect.
Olafsson is a powerhouse in his own right. Born in Connecticut of Icelandic parents but raised mostly in Iceland, he is no stranger to noir, having appeared in the first season of True Detective and Quarry. His portrayal of Andri is pitch perfect as the smart, loyal, but true-to-himself cop. And, refreshingly, the same can be said for the rest of the cast, in particular Ilmur Kristjansdottir, who plays Hinrika, a native of the town and local cop who proves to be as tenacious and confident as her boss. Hinrika may be unassuming, but she is not to be trifled with.
I first watched the series two years ago on a whim, and stumbled onto a gem of a show, one that has gained massive popularity and a fan base clamoring for its return — the show returns on the BBC (BBC4) the night of 16 February. For those of us in the United States, we can only hope the show makes it to a streaming service soon.
So, if you’re looking for something fresh and compelling, check out this highly binge-worthy bit of Icelandic noir on Amazon Prime Video. And then eagerly await Season 2.