As per Wikipedia, ‘Nordic Noir’ is very basically defined as a genre of crime fiction usually written from a police point of view and set in Scandinavia or one of the other Nordic countries. These mostly police procedural crime thrillers have gained in immense popularity worldwide – first through the book form and since then, in the world of film and television. The Norwegian series, Borderliner (Grenseland in its original Norwegian avatar), is yet another Nordic thriller of this type. It is helmed by Bård Fjulsrud, Gunnar Vikene and Rune Denstad Langlo with writing credits shared by Megan Gallagher (series creator), Bjørn Ekeberg and Melike Leblebicioglu.
Borderliner follows upright Oslo cop, Nikolai Andreassan (Tobias Santelmann), who after arresting and testifying against a colleague, takes off for his home town. There, he becomes embroiled in having to investigate the ‘apparent’ suicide of one of the local townspeople. The series, of eight episodes of about 45 minutes each, aired on Television in Norway in late 2017 and has been streaming on Netflix since March 6, 2018. Overall, Borderliner is ably directed, makes for engaging fare, aided tremendously by the stunning locales, fine performances by its entire cast and above all, the moody and stylish camerawork (John-Erling H Fredriksen, Håvar Karlsen, Jakob Ingason) that helps overcome most, if not all, of the story’s hiccups.
Borderliner, expectedly, sticks to many of the genre’s tropes and aesthetics. Typically, this series, as many others, also reveals a backstory with several dark secrets hidden amongst the small Nordic townsfolk and which we come to know bit by bit once the investigation gets underway. The lush, wintry landscape itself is stunning but often seen against overcast clouds and is dark, murky and cold, much like the characters who inhabit it. But there are surprises too. Unlike most protagonists of the genre who are middle-aged, alone and come from dysfunctional families and estranged relationships, Nikolai, in his 30s, is very much in a happy relationship, a gay one, and one that is, thankfully, handled in a most natural, matter-of-fact manner right through the series rather than sensationalizing it at any point. Nikolai also gets along seemingly fine with his brother and adores his niece and nephew. If at all some tension simmers, it is between him and his enigmatic father (Bjørn Skagestad), a former sheriff of the town. Naturally, all these relationships are put to the test as the series proceeds.
Each of the episodes after the first one, opens with a prologue that reveals bit-by bit via subsequent episodes, two important back stories that have a major impact on the current case – one, three weeks earlier and another, six weeks earlier. This helps in keeping the suspense going with information being given to us gradually. The makers also ensure that the endings of every episode are thrilling enough for you to want to go on to the next one immediately. But what makes Borderliner really interesting is that we come to come to know of the involvement of Nikolai’s brother and also a cop, Lars (Benjamin Helstad), in the murder (it can never be a plain suicide, right?) in the opening episode itself. Thereafter, instead of being a straightforward investigation, the series looks at how Nikolai manipulates the entire process by simultaneously setting into motion a series of cover-ups to hide his brother’s involvement even as the investigation goes on. As the cat and mouse games continue and the lies and deception of the characters, especially Lars, go deeper, things expectedly get messier and messier as does Nikolai’s moral degradation.
The performances are spot on. Tobias Santelmann perfectly conveys not just Nikolai’s outer world but more importantly, his inner one, making us see and feel his guilt and torment when events threaten to spiral out of control. Ellen Dorrit Peterson adds must heft and character as Nikolai’s co-investigator Anniken, who not only has to deal with Nikolai’s machinations behind her back but also has to keep the investigation on track. The rest of the supporting cast do their bits perfectly, especially Benjamin Helstad as Lars and Bjørn Skagestad as their father, who has secrets of his own. You do wish, though, that some characters like that of drug smuggler Eva Sudin (Ana Gil de Melo Nascimento) were fleshed out better.
Technically, the slick camerawork definitely lifts the series a notch or two. The editing keeps the pace and narrative flow going smoothly in spite of some obvious drama-creating, parallel cutting at times that goes against the subtlety otherwise shown in the treatment of the story. All in all, Borderliner is well worth a watch if crime dramas and Scandinavian thrillers, in particular, are your cup to tea.
Norway, Thriller, Drama, Color