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Original title: Hamilton: I nationens intresse

D: Kathrine Windfeld / 109m

Cast: Mikael Persbrandt, Saba Mubarak, Pernilla August, Jason Flemyng, Lennart Hjulström, Aleksandr Nosik, Ray Fearon, Peter Andersson, Gustaf Hammarsten, Dan Ekborg, David Dencik, Leo Gregory, Fanny Risberg, Liv Mjönes, Kevin McNally

Posing as a member of a Russian mafia gang, Swedish intelligence officer Carl Hamilton (Persbrandt) is present at an arms deal between the Russian gang and a group of terrorists; the arms in question are Swedish guided missiles. Before the deal can be completed, both sides are ambushed by another group, who make off with the missiles. Making it to safety, Hamilton returns to Stockholm. There he resumes his relationship with a doctor, Maria (Risberg). He wants to settle down with her but an accident happens which prevents them from doing so.

In the meantime, in Ethiopia, a contractor, Martin Lagerbäck (Hammarsten) working for the Swedish company North Fors is kidnapped by fellow employee Benjamin Lee (Fearon). Lee’s reason for doing so is because Lagerbäck is the key to a conspiracy involving North Fors, their security company Sectragon, and the planned assassination of several African politicians using the guided missiles. When the Swedish government learns of Lagerbäck’s abduction, the Prime Minister (August) tasks Sectragon with his and Lee’s retrieval, and elects Hamilton to go along as an observer.

Though both men are rescued, Hamilton becomes suspicious of the intentions of Sectragon’s security chief, Hart (Flemyng). He decides to hijack an incoming helicopter and takes both men with him. Returning to Sweden via Amman in Jordan, and with the help of local PLO operative, Mouna (Mubarak), Hamilton thwarts Hart’s plans to recapture Lee and Lagerbäck. Back in Sweden it soon transpires that North Fors has a mole inside the government and that they are planning to assassinate a visiting Ethiopian politician, along with the Prime Minister. Lee is abducted by Hart, giving Hamilton very little time in which to track them both down and stop North Fors from carrying out their plan to foment war in the Horn of Africa.

Hamilton - scene

Not particularly well known for producing spy thrillers, Sweden is nevertheless very good at producing flawed heroes who are weighed down by angst and debilitating introspection. The same is true here of Carl Hamilton, the creation of author Jan Guillou and the subject of eleven novels so far (this is adapted from the third in the series). With his melancholy features and acerbic outlook, Hamilton is as far removed from James Bond – an obvious comparison to make – as Bond is from, say, Derek Flint. Persbrandt is a good choice, his imposing physique and steely gaze making him ideal for the role, and he’s as adept at the close quarter fighting as he is when either romancing Risberg or being quietly compassionate with Mubarak.

With the character arriving fully formed from the outset – a refreshing change from the usual approach taken at the beginning of a potential franchise (an oddly titled sequel, Agent Hamilton: But Not If It Concerns Your Daughter was also released in 2012) – the movie throws the viewer into the thick of things and only occasionally pauses to give them time to work out what’s going on. Alas, when the viewer is granted pause for reflection, they may well wonder what is going on a little too often for comfort. There are several moments when belief isn’t so much suspended as overlooked. Lee’s abduction of Lagerbäck refuses to make sense however you look at it, and why Hamilton has to keep making trips to the Middle East is never explained either. It’s either a case of lazy plotting, or perhaps worse, a script that’s been bowdlerised during production. Either way, this is a movie where a lot happens… because.

That’s not to say that it isn’t entertaining, because for the most part, it is. The globe-trotting aspects keep the movie looking fresh, and the location work, particularly in Jordan, is often spectacular. Orchestrating it all, Windfeld (who sadly passed away in February of this year) injects an energy into the action scenes that gives the movie a boost whenever they happen, and she shows a confidence that helps paper over the cracks created by the script. She’s good too with her cast, eliciting strong performances from Mubarak and August (you can believe in her world-weary prime minister implicitly), and even reining in most of Flemyng’s idiosyncrasies as an actor. The mix of English and Swedish actors proves fruitful, though McNally’s scenes as the head of Sectragon look to have been filmed in a day, and not by Windfeld; they stand out like a sore thumb: poorly shot and with McNally doing a tired impression of a corporate sleaze bag.

There’s little subtlety involved in the political machinations as well, with Dencik’s slimy government mole proving not too dissimilar to his role in Serena (2014). The subplot involving Hamilton’s girlfriend Maria is played out in the background, and proves more interesting in the end than the main plot itself, as a journalist (Mjönes) gets involved and Hamilton’s career is put in greater jeopardy than it is from Hart. The resolution to this subplot, however, is given short shrift in terms of dramatics, and its effect on Hamilton goes largely by the by, aside from a predictably angst-ridden conversation between Hamilton and his boss, DG (Hjulström). It’s another reminder that Hamilton, while very good at his job, just wants to get out and lead a “normal” life with Maria. But as with all spies who are too good at their job, it’s never going to happen, and Hamilton soon heads back to cracking skulls and saving the world.

Rating: 7/10 – doing just enough to win over its audience, and providing a pleasant enough diversion, Hamilton: In the Interest of the Nation is an often over-cautious attempt at making a spy thriller; with a good central performance from Persbrandt and decisive direction from Windfeld, though, it’s an interesting take on a genre that’s been reinventing itself in recent years, and well worth a look.