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Alcohol is the most beloved of poisons. The fuel for too many artists’ engines, the go-to self-medication of choice for millions, booze soothes you right up until it doesn’t, right up until it literally kills you.
Another Round is a liquor-breathed dirge sung by characters who hate their lives. Were the Danish-Swedish film set in America, “four discontent, selfish, middle-aged guys hatch a plot” would be the start of a story about white supremacy, a political party, or both. Instead, the movie is just a more muted, “sober” Leaving Las Vegas, with Mads Mikkelsen literally dancing circles around what Nicolas Cage did.
Beginning with a brief glimpse of a dejected, dispassionate high-school history instructor named Martin (Mads Mikkelsen), Another Round lays out its premise clearly and directly. Martin and his fellow teachers Peter (Lars Ranthe), Nikolaj (Magnus Millang), and Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen) make the conscious decision to get drunk and stay that way. Somewhat permanently. They are supposedly testing a theory that says the human body is born deficient in alcohol, which is why getting tipsy feels so liberating. The results are exactly as expected. At first, things go well. Then they do not. Fin.
Screenwriter Tobias Lindholm and writer/director Thomas Vinterberg may not offer up a wildly original dramatic arc, but the tone of Another Round is fascinating. Most similarly ethanol-fueled films are designed to scare folks or at least replicate the deepest horrors of alcoholism. To be clear, this flick has plenty of bed-wetting, mortal danger, and public embarrassment. But the tale stops well short of cautionary, which is a unique approach to the subject matter that proves both refreshing and frustrating.
Without getting into spoilerly specifics, Another Round definitely doles out consequences. What it doesn’t do, however, is synthesize its legitimately engaging story into a coherent message or meaning. “Sad men remain sad after drinking lots” somehow proves remarkably watchable but ultimately pretty irrelevant. If nearly all main players in any narrative wind up in almost exactly the same position they were in before the events began, what was the point?
Mikkelsen’s understated performance is top-shelf, even by his standards, but beyond that, the film feels like drunken pontificating. It sounds deep when you’re hammered but has no real substance once you dry up. Another Round does nonjudgmentally poke at—but never answers—an increasingly pressing question: What’s to be done with all the aging, grumpy, privileged dudes wobbling around like rotting powder kegs in affluent countries? Maybe build a time machine, go back, and hug them as kids?
Another Round is inexplicably compelling if well short of profound. Given how many people have increasingly turned to booze for comfort during the pandemic, even if the film doesn’t position itself as a warning, perhaps it’s enough of a mirror to startle some back into sobriety. If nothing else, this is as close to a musical episode of TV’s Hannibal anyone is ever likely to get. And that’s not nothing.
Grade = B
Other Critical Voices to Consider
- Devika Girish at the New York Times describes the film as “a sweet, strangely modest tragicomedy about the pleasures of (mostly banal) excess.”
- Andrew Kendall at Stabroek News says “It feels perverse that a film about watching a group of men become increasingly dependent on alcohol as a way to get through the day feels so noncommittal.”
- Shane Slater at The Spool says “At once sobering and liberating, Another Round is a sincere reflection on aging, friendship, and life itself.”