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Review: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau takes a dramatic turn in murky drama ‘Exit Plan’

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Tuva Novotny in the movie "Exit Plan."
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Tuva Novotny in the movie “Exit Plan.”
(Niels Thastum/Screen Media)

Danish star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau takes a hard left away from his swaggering “Game of Thrones” character Jaime Lannister and his other testosterone-fueled actioners with the Danish drama “Exit Plan.” In this existential and nearly inscrutable mystery, Coster-Waldau steps into the shoes of a mild-mannered insurance adjuster named Max, as he tracks the disappearance of a client to an incredibly dark and unexpected place.

The Hotel Aurora is a strange resort indeed, located in a remote, barren but starkly beautiful Scandinavian landscape, and promises a luxury experience in assisted suicide. For folks with terminal illnesses or who just can’t bear the world anymore, it seems the best way to go, with attention paid to your every need. But is it what it seems, or is there something lurking below the surface? Max, who has been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and is considering suicide, checks in and considers the possibilities before him.

Written by Rasmus Birch and directed by Jonas Alexander Arnby, who previously collaborated on the werewolf tale “When Animals Dream,” “Exit Plan” is not an easy film to discern. It is devastatingly bleak, both in content and in color palette. The film is awash in black, white, gray and neutrals (when a color does appear, pay attention), and the emotional palette is similarly reserved. The timeline slips back and forth between Max’s stay at the hotel and his previous life, in a devoted marriage to Laerke (Tuva Novotny). Is that all a dream or a flashback?

Max wrestles mightily with his fate as he spends his days at the hotel with the other guests living out their last hours. Given his diagnosis, is the right thing to do to slip away quietly, disappearing with nothing left except a video message? “Exit Plan” wants to grapple with these essentially humanist quandaries, but it is too cold and too remote. It hardly offers a moment to be drawn into Max’s struggle. The audience is kept at arm’s length, treated with the same robotic politesse Max receives at the Hotel Aurora.

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At the 11th hour, Birch and Arnby throw in a science-fiction twist, turning the film into a thriller of sorts. But the mystery is buried in layers of dream sequences and flashbacks and psychological torment. With so many misdirected cues and misleading perspectives, you can’t trust what’s happening, so you can’t invest in Max’s emotional journey between life and death. There is real potential in this premise, and a few flickers of genuine artfulness, but the storytelling is frustratingly abstruse, making for an “Exit Plan” that’s a real missed opportunity.

Katie Walsh is a Tribune News Service film critic.

'Exit Plan'

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes

Playing: Available June 12 on VOD


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