Speed Walking opens up in a small Danish town in 1977. Martin (Villads Bøye) and Kim (Frederik Winther Rasmussen), and their teammates, practice for an upcoming speed walking competition with another school. As Martin bikes home, playing his favorite song, everyone around him is staring. He pulls up the to the driveway where Lizzi (Sidse Babett Knudsen), a family friend, embraces him tightly. She informs Martin that his mother just passed away. They slowly walk into the house, where Martin’s dad is distraught on the couch. He hugs his son so tightly that Lizzi pries Martin away.
Martin, who is only a few weeks away from his confirmation, now is the one taking care of his father, who is sleeping in the laundry room. Hans (Andres W. Berthelsen), Martin’s older brother, is just as useless and grieves with bouts of anger. All of this is happening as Martin is fighting feelings for Kim, who at least teases the possibility of them being together. However, he also shows interest in Kristine (Kraka Donslund Nielsen) who reciprocates but thinks Martin might be moving too fast.
Based upon Morten Kirkskov’s 2010 novel Kapang, Speed Walking is directed by Niels Arden Oplev. If that name sounds familiar, it is because he is the director of the original, fantastic film adaptation The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and the underrated Dead Man Down. Much like those two films, his grounded approach allows the audience to instantly place themselves in the lives and locales present in the story (his matter of fact style is why he was such a dreadful choice for the misguided Flatliners remake). The small Danish town bustles with life outside the confines of the screen, so each moment seen feels like a stolen, intimate glance at real life.
“Martin, only a few weeks away from his confirmation, now is the one taking care of his father, who is sleeping in the laundry room…”
As Martin bikes home, in the beginning, the camera travels with him; first aimed down at the tires, slowly making its way up, until Martin’s worry-free face is in full view. The contrast between the carefree, wanderlust induced camera and the very still, observations of Martin’s world shattering is remarkable and visually arresting.
The acting is equally as good. Villads Bøye is charming as Martin. At his mother’s funeral, he finally shows grief and starts screaming that maybe she is still alive. Given his jovial and respectful manner until this, it is a startingly blast of emotion. Bøye sells it like a champ and seeing him snap back to his calm too cool for school demeanor is great. Rasmussen as Kim exudes energy and a zeal for life that compliments Martin well. As Kristine, Nielsen brings warmth and an older than her age sensibility which allows for the character’s intelligence to show in every scene.
As good as everyone else is though, the absolute standout is Sidse Babett Knudsen as the caring neighbor Lizzi. She is a ball of energy, joy, and pure delightfulness. Just the way she enters the room perks the audience up a little, or the sass in her voice when she answers the phone hints at such an abundant inner life. Every scene Lizzi is in is that much better and that much more enjoyable. I look forward to any and every new film Knudsen will appear in, and I know she will be a great boon to them all.
“…his grounded approach allows the audience to instantly place themselves in the lives and locales present in the story.”
She is bolstered by a script that has acute and relatable characterizations for almost everyone. Hans’s reasons for wearing his mom’s sunglasses, once revealed, makes absolute sense. The local hairdresser even gets an engaging little subplot. Screenwriter Bo Hr. Hansen also takes the traditional tropes of a coming of age story and makes feel authentic for these people at this time. Martin tells Kristine of the rumors swirling around about the two of them kissing. They then kiss for real, and she tells him to slow it down and not be so forceful. It is an authentic and true to life first kiss. It is rather sweet.
However, there is one character where the script falls flat. Oddly enough, that character is Martin. Beginning to end, minus the freakout at the funeral, he is mostly the same. During the party after his confirmation, he and his friends are drinking quite a bit (I presume legally as the adults are pouring more and more for them) but he drank earlier, so it is not exactly new to him. Mentioned above, that is he and Kristine’s first kiss, not his first kiss ever. So, what does the story of Speed Walking offers the audience to latch onto this particular character for 90+ minutes? Uhm, he is rather amazing at the titular sport. The end, which is lackluster, only reinforces how little change Martin went through, leaving a lasting impression of why bother?
Speed Walking is brilliantly directed, boasts excellent acting, a star-making turn by Knudsen, and very tight, script. It is just too bad that the lead character is lacking from a writing standpoint.
Speed Walking (2018) Directed by Niels Arden Oplev. Written by Bo Hr. Hansen. Villads Bøye, Frederik Winther Rasmussen, Kraka Donslund Nielsen, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Andres W. Berthelsen.
7 Gummi Bears (out of 10)