Adam's Apples 

Directed by Anders Thomas Jensen

I feel like a bad Jew — Adam's Apples made me sympathize with a neo-Nazi. And not a Jewish neo-Nazi like from that Showtime movie; Jensen's Adam is an unapologetically violent brute who doesn't need a translation to understand Hitler. Played to perfection by Ulrich Thomsen (who looks like a squat Jason Statham), he's supposedly (and self-admittedly) pure evil. But Ivan (Mads Mikkelsen), the vicar of a small church where Adam is sent after incarceration, doesn't think pure evil exists. As Adam gradually comes around to Ivan's way of thinking, Jensen's film reveals a darkly comedic take on religion, and one that makes me feel a little better.

A Jewish thinker named Hannah Arendt once theorized that evil springs from the ordinary (the banality of evil, she called it). Jensen's film operates according to that principle, except a more apt phrase to turn might be the banality of good. Ivan's rural church, and Adam's stated intent to bake an apple cake, are, after all, unassuming venues for a moral struggle. Yet often the film can't escape this banality, and suffers for it. Whereas films like American Beauty played on this tension, positing the sanitized normality of the suburbs as opposed to true happiness, Adam's Apples seems to find normality a relief. Chalk it up to the European monastic tradition, perhaps, or a German fondness for order. Either way, the movie is, at points, slow and boring.

Jensen's characters are fun to watch, though. Adam's original attitude towards Ivan gives a new meaning to "the politics of personal destruction," but by the film's end Ivan is restored and Adam is his partner. The supporting cast — specifically Ivan's other wards, Khalid (Ali Kazim) and Gunnar (Nicolas Bro) — deliver superb performances. And Mads Mikkelsen doesn't flinch in portraying the wonderfully delusional Ivan. Yet the plainness of their surroundings — which Jensen could, but doesn't, make look pretty — is something they can't escape.

Opens March 16

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