Ranarna (aka At Point Blank, 2004) Movie Review

It’s a mystery why the Swedes don’t make more action films like “Ranarna” or “Executive Protection”, when they seem to do it just as well as everyone else. Maybe it’s because the locals don’t appreciate the combination of realism and Hollywood-esque shoot’em ups, but this reviewer certainly thinks the Swedes make fine action cinema. Although the film in question is probably too inspired by Hollywood fare such as Michael Mann’s “Heat”, it’s still a nicely executed, acted, and entertaining crime film from beginning to end.

“Ranarna” stars Sofia Helin as Klara, an introverted police researcher with a knack for figuring out the intricacies of crimes. After a group of heavily armed robbers knock over some banks with military-like efficiency, Klara comes to the conclusion that the robbers are ex-SWAT cops. Meanwhile, home life isn’t going very well for Klara, who lives with her doctor boyfriend Frank (Mikael Persbrandt) and is still trying to get over the loss of her daughter 2 years ago.

As the case heats up, Klara has to work with Gregor (Stefan Sauk), an abrasive SWAT cop who used to know two of the thieves. Their investigation leads to a group of foreign legionnaires believed killed in combat, but is really working with the ex-SWAT cops. What had begun as a police procedural turns personal when Klara is forced to shoot one of the thieves at the scene of a bank robbery, and later finds her life upended when someone she thought she knew turned out to be someone completely different. It’s a major plot twist that I don’t wish to spoil, because it does changes the film’s dynamics completely.

At its core, “Ranarna” is a slick crime film with spurts of action and a good performance by its female lead. It’s certainly nothing you haven’t seen before, but not much that gets sent out into the cinematic void nowadays is. What makes the film worthwhile is the execution by writer/director Peter Lindmark, who keeps the film moving at just the right pace. The movie never lags, and the investigation proceeds at just the right clip. The first hour is about the personal emotions of its lead heroine as she comes into contact with various people, from the flippant and antagonistic Gregor to the violent robbers themselves.

When the film reveals its Big Twist, things get even more personal for Klara. The life of a boy, abducted by the robbers in order to coerce the boy’s father to feed them inside information, becomes a replacement child for Klara. By saving him, she reasons, she can save her own daughter, who died of drowning. It’s the type of illogical reasoning only a mother still suffering from the death of her child can possibly come to. And Sofia Helin, in a subdued but sympathetic performance, makes us root for her even when we know she’s doing exactly the opposite of what a good cop should be doing.

Which isn’t to say “Ranarna” does everything well. It’s Big Twist, in particular, is a major plot contrivance. When a character’s true colors are revealed, it’s a little hard to accept that Klara, the consummate police researcher, is completely caught off guard. One would assume that having access to police records would mean she could, and would, vet everything and everyone important to her. Apparently this isn’t the case, because she never sees it coming. It’s a bit much to swallow, made worst since the entire second half depends on Klara’s reaction to the Big Twist.

Still, there’s a lot to like about “Ranarna”. As a mainstream actioner, it benefits from Peter Lindmark’s sure direction and a good, solid cast. Sofia Helin is a winner, as well as Mikael Persbrandt as the empathetic boyfriend, and Stefan Sauk as the arrogant SWAT liaison. Of course the film doesn’t really explain why a SWAT cop is working with an investigative unit, but Sauk’s character livens up the film just enough for the audience to forgive this minor contrivance.

“Ranarna” is a solid thriller by every criteria of the genre. To be sure, it’s no more complex or deeper than Hollywood fare like “SWAT”, and as such it could have benefited from more action. This is one of the film’s big faults — there’s not enough action and what action there is lacks the raw intensity of the gunbattles in Michael Mann’s “Heat”. But even if “Ranarna” adds nothing new to the genre, the change of scenery certainly makes it seem just a little bit more original, even if it isn’t.

Peter Lindmark (director) / Peter Lindmark (screenplay)
CAST: Sofia Helin …. Klara
Mikael Persbrandt …. Frank
Stefan Sauk …. Greger Krona
Stina Ekblad …. Marianne
Peter Franz’n …. Juri/Jarko

Buy Ranarna on DVD