24 November 2003 | Yrmy
Once upon a time in Finland.
Two men, Varjola and Nieminen, rob a mail van disguised as policemen. Then Varjola kills the driver, shoots his partner and takes off with the loot. Nieminen survives and goes to prison without revealing his accomplice's name. Years later, on a three-day leave from prison, he finds Varjola in a small rural town, where the robber has become the mayor and is campaigning for a seat in the parliament in the next national elections. Naturally, Varjola is not too excited about seeing Nieminen come knocking on his door.
Obviously, what we have here is a mixture of western and its urban descendant, the film noir, set in the provincial Finland in the 1980s. It's no guns-ablaze action piece, however, but a small-gesture suspense piece, where the audience is kept guessing about Nieminen's intentions and Varjola's reactions as the pressure mounts. The problem is that the film's pay-off is not really worth the build-up. You expect the film to erupt into something greater it seems to be gearing towards, but it never does (a weakness in some of Aaltonen's later films as well: suggesting more than they can deliver). It lacks the western's mythological dimension, and the underlying theme about guilt (the question whether Varjola should pay for his acts or can he absolve himself; Nieminen as the destructive shadow of conscience etc.) is not really explored more than superficially. So instead of the crime story, lot of the film really dwells on the backwater community mentality, and the brief relationship that Nieminen, the silent, solitary stranger, has with the cynical but friendly hairdresser played by Pakarinen. These are very much archetypal Finnish themes, but the vision is definitely Kaurismäki's, common to many of his own films. It is no more successful here than the thriller aspect, however.
The main performances are the prime reason for watching the film. Nikkari is brilliant as a violent and authoritarian man mocked by his own campaign slogan, the popular Finnish proverb "honesty shall inherit the Earth", as the "final reckoning" of the title approaches in conjunction with the election results. Similarly, Niemelä gives a suitably deadpan performance as the long-coated long-weekend avenger who makes Eastwood's laconic spaghetti western anti-heroes seem like blabbermouths in comparison. The soundtrack has some decent sub-Ry Cooder guitar amidst the now dated sounding digital synthesizer tones.