Daniel

 

starstarstarstar

 


A generally worthy treatment of a real-life drama that will be hard-going for some viewers.

 
Daniel

Toby Kebbell and Esben Smed 

 

This film by Niels Arden Oplev and Anders W. Berthelsen takes as its subject the Danish photojournalist Daniel Rye. Its early scenes which are exceedingly well paced set up the background to his story: we meet his family including his older sister, Anita (Sofie Torp), learn how an injury interrupted his participation as a member of the Danish National Gymnastics team and find him in Somalia having been taken on as an assistant by a professional photographer. Daniel himself is played by a very able actor, Esben Smed, who is adroitly cast in that his presence here quite lacks any film-star aura. He looks like an everyman figure and that encourages the audience to feel that what develops is a situation that could easily have happened to them.

 

Daniel was born in 1989 but what thrust him into the limelight was what occurred when, following his time in Somalia, he went on a private mission to Syria to take photographs that would capture the lives of the ordinary citizens living in a war-torn country. ISIS had taken over the area he was visiting and, ignoring his papers of approval, they seized him and refused to believe that he was who he said he was. Beating and torture were quickly applied and he would find himself imprisoned and held hostage for thirteen months.

 

The film cuts back and forth between Daniel's experiences in Syria and scenes of his family in Denmark. Once his captors had acknowledged his identity, they claimed a huge ransom and we see Daniel's family desperately trying to raise funds, their plight all the greater because the Danish government had a policy of not negotiating with terrorists and refusing to pay any sums demanded by them. Meanwhile, Daniel's captivity brings him into contact with an American journalist also held as a prisoner, this being James Foley (Toby Kebbell).

 

Inevitably this is a grim tale and the filmmakers treat it with a proper seriousness of tone. Weaker moments are few and far between: an attempted escape by Daniel does briefly play like a scene from an action thriller, one late episode contains a fictional-sounding dialogue exchange and the film's conclusion, a message from a dead man, is something of a set piece. What counts is that for the rest Daniel is very persuasive indeed aided by quality acting, not least from Smed in the title role. However, I do feel that I should add that the events depicted are so harrowing that I found watching the film something of a burden (in contrast Tobias Lindholm's splendid 2012 drama A Hijacking, with which Daniel has been compared, was able to focus on negotiations whereas here the sufferings of the hostages held by ISIS are absolutely central). Whether or not one chooses to see a film of this kind is down to personal taste and is not a matter for the critic even if here adopting a running time of 138 minutes does increase the pervading bleakness. Accordingly, I leave it to potential viewers to reflect on this while offering a rating in line with the quality of the filmmaking.

 

Original title: Ser du mänen, Daniel.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Esben Smed, Toby Kebbell, Sofie Torp, Anders W. Berthelsen, Amir El-Masry, Sarah Hjort Ditlevsen, Jens Jørn Spottag, Christiane Gjellerup Koch, Andrea Heick Gadeberg, Sofia Asir, Samuel Brafman-Moutier.

 

Dir Niels Arden Oplev and Anders W. Berthelsen, Pro Signe Leick Jensen and Morten Kaufmann, Screenplay Anders Thomas Jensen, from the book by Puk Damsgård Andersen, Ph Eric Kress, Pro Des Knirke Madelung, Ed Lars Therkelsen and Anne Østerud, Music Johan Söderqvist, Costumes Stine Thanning.

 

Hummelfilm/Toolbox Film/Imaginarium Films/Sveriges Television/Cinenic Film/Danish Film Institute/ Danmarks Radio (DR)-Signature Entertainment.
138 mins. Denmark/Norway/Sweden. 2019. Rel: 18 January 2021. Available on VOD. No Cert.