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First Look Review - POWDER KEG

powder keg review
Dramatisation of the Copenhagen terrorist attacks of February 2015.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Ole Christian Madsen

Starring: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Lars Brygmann, Albert Arthur Amiryan, Adam Buschard, Jakob Oftebro, Sonja Richter, Nicolaj Kopernikus, Martin Greis-Rosenthal

powder keg poster

There are few countries that don't have the date of a terrorist attack etched into their people's minds. For Denmark it's February 14th, 2015, when an Islamic fundamentalist attacked a cultural centre hosting a Swedish cartoonist known for his depictions of the prophet Muhammad. There he killed one man who attempted to subdue him while injuring five others. Later that night the attacker shot dead a security guard outside a synagogue before being gunned down by police himself.

powder keg review

With Powder Keg, director Ole Christian Madsen dramatises the build-up to the attack with a focus on four key men involved. There's the attacker himself, Omar Hamid El-Hussain (Albert Arthur Amiryan), newly released from jail and determined to strike out in the name of the religious fundamentalism he absorbed in prison. There's Rico (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), a SWAT team member whose career is coming to a close as he struggles with physical injuries. There's Dan Uzan (Adam Buschard), an unemployed Jewish man struggling to find work due to his Middle Eastern name. And there's Finn Norgaard (Lars Bryggman), a documentary filmmaker struggling with his producers.


All four men are based on real life figures from the incident, but none of them are fleshed out enough to convince as anything more than stereotypes at best and crude political vessels at worst. As Omar, Amiryan bears a constant scowl, and there's little to separate him from an Arabic villain in some gung-ho 1980s action movie. Coster-Waldau's Rico is a descendant of Dirty Harry, the cop who lives for his job and struggles to function when he's not taking down criminals. Like Omar, Bryggman's Finn is reduced to his political beliefs, constantly arguing about free speech. Only Buschard's Dan escapes the clich├ęs, but he's the most neglected of the quartet and we learn very little about his life.

powder keg review

The title could refer to any of the four men, as they're all designed to come off as potential perpetrators of an attack. If you had lived under a rock for the past decade you might wonder which of the men will be the one to strike out, such is the manner in which Madsen and his co-screenwriter Lars Kristian Anderson structure their story. But of course we're told from the off that this is based on the February 14th attack, so we know exactly who the antagonist is here.

powder keg review

As you might expect from a Danish production, Powder Keg is technically polished and exceptionally well acted. It has the feeling of a story that had to be told at some point, but in its present form it's a little too close to Paul Haggis's Crash with its crudely drawn, overlapping characters. It lacks the ticking clock energy of Paul Greengrass's depictions of similar events, or even Peter Berg's Patriots Day. Ultimately, Powder Keg never quite explodes, but merely fizzles out.
Powder Keg is on US/Canadian VOD now. A UK/ROI release has yet to be announced.



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