As one of the unintentional blunders of Edinburgh International Film Festival 2014, director Johan Renck’s Swedish language television epic The Fat and The Angry became lost in translation after a subtitle problem left dissatisfied punters leaving in droves. However, as testament to Renck’s gritty noir, several people (including myself) returned for later screenings with great anticipation for the cheap thrills and complex plotlines of the ambitious crime saga. The sheer scale of Goodfellas combined with the subjective narration of Fight Club if you like.
As an individual who has dipped his directorial fingers in shows such as Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead and Bates Motel, Johan Renck’s The Fat and The Angry mirrors the atmospheric and cinematic sensibilities of high – end American TV productions, exploring the dark side of Sweden’s second largest city Gothenburg in a true case of criminal corruption, credit card duplication and global information fraud. Screened as a 2 part TV programme collectively running over three hours, perhaps my initial gripe was the sheer amount of characters and factions who continuously enter the fray – from corporate bankers and Russian mobsters to violent thugs and corrupt politicians – forcing you to escalate your attention as allegiances change and relationships evolve. However tying the story together is a True Detective style police interrogation with unassuming suspect (Jonathan Anderson), forced to recount the many angles of the fraud operation under fear of American extradition laws. This style is perhaps the most appealing element of The Fat and the Angry, as retrospective storytelling stylishly dips in and out of scenarios informing the bigger picture, while simultaneously providing ambiguity towards characters in the present.
Watching The Fat and The Angry is definitely a matter of playing the long game and beyond the slick incendiary event drama are subtle moments and clues that make the whole experience that little bit more rewarding. While some characters remain stock clichés, others are a pleasure to spend time with: from Gustaf Skarsgard’s flash gum chewing mobster to Liv Mijones Swedish interrogator. The more violent characters are also satisfyingly fleshed out by seeing elements of their home lives – which in true Scorsese style – is always a great touch. As a continuation of the themes of Swedish EIFF 2013 film Call Girl dramatizing the real events of child prostitution and political corruption, Johan Renck’s expands this in a world where money is power, fear is currency and everything is connected. With an opening credits combining archival footage, political narration on social reform and a thumping electronic score, the TV show wears its satirical intentions on its sleeve and (literally) refuses to pull any punches.
With Swedish language movie series The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo seamlessly crossing borders without the need for a Fincher reboot, I can imagine The Fat and the Angry following in its footsteps. As an intimidating narrative with social commentary, black humour, shocking violence and everything in-between, Renck’s return to Swedish TV is a far more accomplished piece of work than any of his American endeavours, basking in starched colour pallets and taking advantage of his creative freedom from commercial U.S producers. As an unflinching powerhouse with a conclusion echoing the ethical hacktivist movements of today, The Fat and the Angry is a surprisingly gripping slice of television drama that should go down a treat with fans of HBO’s caricatures and stylish programming. Keep an eye on this one. It bites.
Director: Johan Renck
Stars: Jonathan Andersson, Liv Mjönes, Gustaf Skarsgård
Runtime: 180 min