Review by Sean Boelman
Based on the world famous novel by Per Petterson, Out Stealing Horses is a new drama that wallows in its depression. Despite great performances and a wonderful director who brings some interesting visuals to the film, the script is simply too much of a dirge for it to be remotely satisfying.
The movie tells the story of a grieving widower who, upon an encounter with a neighbor he once knew a long time ago, begins to reflect back on the tragedies he has experienced in life. The film, at over two hours in length, is simply a barrage of depressing vignettes, and after a time, it gets to be outright exhausting.
One of the most off-putting things about the movie is its unorthodox nonlinear structure. Though the use of flashbacks in the narrative is expected, the film jumps through different time periods in a way that can be hard to follow. While this may be a statement on the fleeting nature of memory, it still ruins a lot of the connection the audience would have to the story.
Additionally, there are too many supporting characters that the movie tries to develop equally, leaving many narrative threads underdeveloped. There are some interesting things happening, like the protagonist’s relationship with his father, but the amount of connections there was to explore is more conducive to a novel format than a cinematic one.
There is an almost poetic feeling to the film, and yet so much of it feels so empty. Yes, there are some ideas to be found here about grief and coping with tragedy, but these hopeful messages are buried beneath so many layers of sorrow that they are nearly invisible. And as a result, the movie often ends up feeling insincere.
That said, the actors do bring some legitimate emotion to the film. Stellan Skarsgård does an excellent job of sulking, although his role is little more than a pivotal supporting one. Tobias Santelmann is probably the biggest standout as the father of Skarsgård’s character appearing in flashbacks.
The movie is also quite impressive aesthetically. The cinematography by Rasmus Videbæk is breathtakingly gorgeous despite the often somber subject matter of the film. Additionally, the sound design is quite unique, aided by a wonderful score from Kaspar Kaae that is somewhat underused.
With all the talent behind and in front of the camera, Out Stealing Horses is a massive disappointment. Unfortunately, even though the movie looks great, the script is just so overbearingly bleak that it’s hard to stomach.
Out Stealing Horses hits theaters and VOD on August 7.