The film’s writer-director, Suzanne Bier, specializes in giving her actors mold-breaking performances — the statuesque Connie Nielsen gave a terrific one in Brothers — and in her latest, she allows Mikkelsen one revelatory scene after another. To be fair, the actor was in no need of a dramatic makeover: Despite his terrific baddie roles in the Bond film and the menacing Pusher trilogy, he’s been performing steadily in Danish melodramas for years (including Bier’s breakthrough, Open Hearts). But with his pursed lips, machine-stamped cheekbones and post-punk hairdo, Mikkelsen is one of those performers for whom being distant and withholding comes naturally.
After the Wedding goes a long way in establishing him as a soulful, simmering leading man, even as his icy demeanor adds a much-needed devious dimension to the too-good-to-be-true character of Jacob. An altruistic orphanage manager forced to come to terms with a long-neglected past, Jacob reluctantly leaves his post in India — and the dewy-eyed boys he considers his sons — to meet with a potential benefactor back in Denmark. When he gets there, he realizes the Trump-like Jorgen (Rolf Lassgard) intends on putting him through the ringer in exchange for a $4 million charitable contribution. He persuades Jacob to attend the wedding of his adoptive daughter Anna (Stine Fischer Christensen), where it’s promptly revealed that Jorgen’s wife Helene (Sidse Babett Knudsen) is Jacob’s old flame, and the bride in question is the child he never knew (cue the strings).
It all gets exponentially more convoluted from there, but one of Bier’s strengths as a designer of highbrow soap operas is that she’s always one step ahead of your expectations. She usually cuts to her big revelations a few beats before you can guess them; what usually takes a full hour to get to in daytime television is over and done with in the first 20 minutes of After the Wedding. And she always coaxes something crushingly real out of even the most contrived scenes: The way Jacob polishes his wingtips with his thumb before his big meeting, or the way he and Anna regard each other — a subtle mix of awkwardness and tentative elation — after they realize they’re related.
It’d be nice if Bier let a little more levity in, if she lightened the mood just a little to deepen the drama. Some of her stylistic flourishes are too portentous: Just one close-up of the stuffed, mounted wild game trophies in Jorgen’s mansion would’ve been more than enough to imply that he treats people the way he treats animals, thank you very much. But fans of high-incident, high-emotion, brooding-hunk cinema will find plenty of opportunities to go through a box of Kleenex during After the Wedding. As for Mikkelsen, if Casino Royale convinced Hollywood he could be a great villain, then this movie will be his calling card as a non-creepy romantic heavy. Let’s just hope that doesn’t spell a starring role in an Ashley Judd rom-com anytime soon.
Showing at the Maple Art Theatre, 4135 W. Maple Rd., Bloomfield Hills; 248-263-2111.
Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].