“Executive Protection” has the distinction of being the first film from Sweden to be reviewed on Nixflix.com. It’s an action film, although the action is kept to a minimum despite what the boxcover and the pictures would have you believe. It’s a drama, although the drama is so restrained you wonder what any of it means, and it will probably take a while after watching the film to finally “get” everything the film was going for.
The star of “Executive Protection” (aka “Livvakterna”) is Jacob Eklund, who plays Johan Falk, an emotionally unavailable cop who, as the film opens, has been busted down so low in the ranks that he’s filing papers on stolen bicycles. Because of a tragedy in his past, Johan has resolved to become as emotionally detached from anyone and everything in his life. This makes him a dedicated cop, but a terrible friend. When Sven Persson (Samuel Froler), a childhood acquaintance of Johan, comes into the crosshairs of a sadistic mercenary (Christoph Ohrt), Johan is asked to help. Joining a local group that provides security service, Johan goes up against the mercenary’s group of killers, with Sven’s fortune — but more importantly, his family’s life — at stake.
At its most exciting, “Executive Protection” has ambitions of being more than it is capable of. As mentioned, the film is not really an action movie. Under the direction of Anders Nilsson, “Executive” is more of a drama with sudden spurts of action in it. Cars don’t blow up, there are no outrageous stunts, and in fact, everything is choreographed to be so “down to Earth” that anyone familiar with standard Hollywood action fare will feel a little underwhelmed by what they see. I guess you could call “Executive” the anti-Hollywood action movie; only it’s not really an action movie per se, so there you have it.
The drama side of “Executive” has notions of being more than what eventually ends up onscreen — or at least at first glance. The movie takes a lot of risk assuming that audiences will see what it’s trying to get at without being directly told that A leads to B to C. Whatever resolutions the film offers in terms of character arc are executed with such subtlety that they aren’t readily obvious. (For those who decide to see the movie, I would suggest taking a while to consider the film’s last 10 minutes. Johan’s standoff with the mercenary, in particular, means something more than what’s immediately obvious onscreen.)
The film focuses a lot on Johan’s life, and how people react to his cavalier attitude toward others. We learn that Johan became a cop after his girlfriend was killed in a hit-and-run accident years ago; she was pregnant with their child when she died, and now Johan can no longer allow himself to be responsible for anyone. He’s as closed when it comes to emotional attachment as anyone can be; in fact, Johan drives everyone away without batting an eye. It’s so second nature to him that he doesn’t even acknowledge his actions anymore.
The screenplay does make a mistake of glossing over the film’s other characters. Alexandra Rapaport has a large role as Pernilla, one of the agents in the security service. Beyond what a character tells us about Pernilla (that she’s the daughter of a diplomat who was murdered), we know nothing else about her, or even her (seemingly close) relationship with the security firm’s boss. This lack of knowledge comes into play when considering the action Pernilla takes at the end of the movie. The reasons are clear, but not very obvious. For those of us used to having Hollywood spell out character motivations in great detail, “Executive” takes a little getting used to.
If it sounds as if “Executive Protection” has no action, that isn’t exactly true. There is a car chase, a bloody shootout in the beginning, another shootout in the middle, and an extended gunfight at the end. Unfortunately there are times when the action sequences don’t ring true, and the choreography just don’t feel right. If the filmmakers were going for realistic, they failed. There’s no bang to the action scenes, and as a result much of the gunbattles come across as just barely serviceable.
“Executive Protection” is most effective when it doesn’t bother with the action and instead focuses on the characters. The screenplay is perhaps a little too understated for its own good, but you really can’t fault a film that requires you to make more of an effort to see its intentions than your average action movie. “Executive” is good, but it could definitely have used a lot more “punch” to it. For instance, when gun squibs look like cheap firecrackers, it’s time to call in an expert.
Anders Nilsson (director) / Anders Nilsson, Joakim Hansson (screenplay)
CAST: Jacob Eklund …. Johan Falk
Samuel FrÃ¶ler …. Sven Persson
Alexandra Rapaport …. Pernilla
Lia Boysen …. Jeanette Persson
Christoph M. Ohrt …. Nikolaus Lehman