R is certainly one of my favorite prison movies. This Danish film is directed by Tobias Lindholm (Hijacking, A War) and Michael Noer (Northwest, Key House Mirror) and it was released in 2010 in Denmark and in 2011 in the USA and in UK.
It is about Rune, a young criminal who has just arrived in prison. There, he is nobody. He is named by the letter “R”. During his sentence, he meets Rachid, a young Muslim with who he organizes a drug trafficking. But this makes the other prisoners envious…
R is a very realistic film about the survival of a simple young man in prison. Tobias Lindholm and Michael Noer show simply the hard world of prison environment. From the beginning the camera follows the actor with close-up shots, in a subjective approach. The character is always present onscreen, in almost all the shots. It is a very immersive film.
This movie deals with different themes like hazing. Just after his arrival in prison, Rune is persecuted by the other prisoners, who ask him to clean their cells, as he was a servant. In an Adventure movie, the hero would fight with them. But in R, these situations are filmed realistically by the directors. It is not easy to integrate himself into the prison.
Other themes are humanity and innocence (not in a legal sens) of the character. We never know what he did, and it is not the question. In the opening, when Rune arrives in prison, a guard says to him “You must have done a bloody stupid thing to finish here”. Whatever he did, we understand that it will be difficult to him to survive here and that it is not a place for a young thin man.
Rune is played by the great actor Pilou Asbæk. The character has no expression, we never know what he is thinking about. When he asks to his grandma to bring Kinder surprise to the parlor, we think that it is regressive, that we have an access to Rune’s sensibility. But in fact, it is just a strategy to use the Kinder surprise boxes in the drug trafficking. All his world is perverted by a criminal environment. When he was a child, he never could have imagined that he will use Kinder surprise for a criminal reason when he will grow up! The prisoner leaves all his past and his humanity behind him when he “opens” a prison door…
The film directed by Tobias Lindholm and Michael Noer also shows the architecture of the prison and the cells. The viewer explores the privacy of the prisoners. We know all about the organisation of prisoners’ life and we are even enclosed with them in their cells.
At the second third of the movie there is a surprising twist who totally upsets the story. R is a realistic and claustrophobic dive into the prison environment. Even if the story is pretty classical, the main actor – and all the others – and the making of the film are very good.
Directors: Tobias Lindholm, Michael Noer
Writers: Tobias Lindholm, Michael Noer
Starring: Pilou Asbæk, Dulfi Al-Jabouri, Roland Møller, Jacob Gredsted, Omar Shargawi…
Running time: 1h39