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Review: A police killing triggers slick, socially conscious Danish thriller ‘Enforcement’

Three men, one in zip-tie handcuffs, peer around.
Jacob Lohmann, left, Simon Sears and Tarek Zayat in the movie “Enforcement.”
(Tine Harden / Magnet Releasing)

The English title of Danish policing drama “Enforcement” loses something in the translation. The original title, “Shorta,” means “cops” in Arabic, and in the film, it’s wielded like an insult, spray-painted on squad cars, illustrating the fire and ire behind the word, and there’s plenty of ire and fire in this slick, socially conscious thriller. The directorial debut of co-writers and co-directors Frederik Louis Hviid and Anders Ølholm, “Enforcement” is a high-octane examination of a problem we all live with: racist police brutality.

Over the course of a day and a night, police officers Jens (Simon Sears) and Mike (Jacob Lohmann) become trapped in a largely Muslim, vastly under-policed neighborhood during violent riots after the police killing of a young Muslim man. Comparisons have already been made to Walter Hill and John Carpenter, particularly their respective films “The Warriors” and “Escape From New York.” Both films feature the very difficult task of crossing war-zone-like territory. The brawny “Enforcement” doesn’t shy away from brutal action, but the film is more in line with recent police thrillers like Deon Taylor’s “Black and Blue,” and Ladj Ly’s “Les Misérables,” which fuse overt sociopolitical commentary with genre thrills.

Cinematographer Jacob Møller shoots “Enforcement” with a sharp, shiny clarity; saturated colors and muscular handheld shots place you on the ground and in the action. It has an almost hyperreal quality to it, a heightened reality that adds to the adrenaline rush of the filmmaking as tension builds and erupts.

There’s a moment in “Enforcement” that would be perfect for one of those “you’re probably wondering how I got here” freeze-frame moments, wherein Jens and Mike find themselves in their police vehicle under a hail of rocks thrown by a group of angry young Muslim men, with a cuffed Muslim teenager, Amos (Tarek Zayat), in the backseat. Mike, a powder keg of toxic masculine rage, has just stopped and frisked Amos for no apparent reason, subjecting him to a humiliating public search. His reluctant partner, Jens, is the strong, silent type, resisting Mike when he can but mostly trying to keep the situation under control.

After they escape the car, Jens and Mike, with Amos in their custody, and under constant cellphone surveillance, will have to traverse this neighborhood, where police are a rare and unwelcome sight. They will have to confront their own beliefs, demons and each other, and every person they encounter will in some way represent the complexities of this community and the situation that has boiled over into angry, frustrated mayhem. Eventually, their paths will diverge, and over the course of many hard-fought hours of bloodshed and personal reckonings, Jens and Mike will find themselves in very different positions, personally and symbolically.

Mike has the biggest arc and transformation, and Lohmann gives a tremendously intense physical performance as a man whom you fear and suspect, then ultimately learn to trust even if he’s difficult to like. Both Jens and Mike commit heinous acts in the line of duty and survival, yet we’re on this journey with them and hope to see it, and therefore them, to the end. This conflicted relationship with our protagonists makes “Enforcement” compelling, but the film’s politics are complicated. We watch these riots unfold in this community from the perspective of two heavily armed white cops, and although there’s a desire to see them grow and change, it’s still the blood of young brown bodies on the streets. Even in fiction, that’s a narrative that cannot be ignored.

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Katie Walsh is a Tribune News Service film critic.

‘Enforcement’

In Danish with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes

Playing: Available March 19 on VOD


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