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Enforcement [Video Review]

Cop(s) Out: Hviid & Olholm Provide Neutral Portrait Prizing Familiar Perspectives

Anders Olholm Frederik Louis Hviid Movie Review Cinema can certainly successfully exist as both a statement and a sentiment, and the importance of the social issue drama sometimes outweighs certain shortcomings in the final product. Such is not the case for Enforcement (initially titled Shorta, Arabic for ‘police’), which is more a prime example of filmmakers trying to portray a contemporary reality of police violence and white privilege in Denmark as objectively as they can.

But in the attempt of Frederik Louis Hviid and Anders Olholm trying to avoid defending or criticizing the law enforcement figures driving their narrative, the film feels more like an example of ‘those who stand for nothing fall for anything’ category. The struggle to portray humans who, for a complex assortment of reasons, find themselves unable to do the right thing, suggest at least the necessity for separation or distance from objectivity (outside of a classic documentary format). Storytellers who aren’t comfortable exploring the inherent discomfort of the worlds they choose to depict tend to rely not only on cliché, but conditioned sentiments. And Hviid and Olholm only succeed in showcasing how whiteness is not just a cancer afflicting the United States.

While 19-year-old Talib Ben Hassi remains in a coma following a confrontation with Copenhagen police who are being accused of using excessive force, the entire city is on edge. Officer report for duty in what promises to be an extraordinarily long day. Tensions are high, and they’re instructed to stay away from the Svalegarden neighborhood, where officers are predicted to have a higher chance of inciting a riot due to their presence. Amongst their own, everyone is a bit leery about Jens Hoyer (Simons Sears), a stand-up cop who hasn’t yet given his deposition on the Hassi incident, although he was there to witness what his colleagues did firsthand. The suggestion is, he might confirm excessive force was indeed used. The Watch Commander assigns him to ride along with one of the force’s more problematic cops, Mike Anderson (Jacob Lohmann) to keep him in check. Almost immediately, Anderson finds an excuse to head off to Svalegarden after some racial profiling, and an argument between the two men, who have opposing values, sets off a deadly chain of events when Anderson stops, searches and publicly humiliates teenager Amos (Tarek Zayat). A chase ensues, Amos is arrested, and then Hassi’s death is announced over the radio, leading to an immediate riot. The two cops find themselves trapped in Svalegarden without assistance as riots spring up all over the city. They must depend on Amos for assistance in leading them to a safety checkpoint, but the grueling night will change them all irrevocably.

What Enforcement does have to offer are some well-choreographed action sequences and an impressive production design. DP Jacob Moller adds intensity with the film’s framing, but Svalegarden is hardly the urban squalor it’s characterized as by the police (descriptions of this neighborhood in various climes reduce the area by describing it as a ‘ghetto’). But these small victories are few and far between, and while Hviid and Olholm try to juxtapose their ‘good cop/bad cop’ by confirming Anderson is worthy of redemption and Hoyer’s passivity has compromised his integrity, such elements feel too little/too late while leaving all its peripheral characters (i.e. the Arabic population they serve) as cardboard cut outs, unintentionally justifying the racial profiling which led Anderson and Hoyer to disobey their directive to stay away from the area in the first place.

The film’s title change from the Danish word for ‘cop’ to the Arabic suggests there was supposed to be either a clearer juxtaposition, a reversal of fortune, or some sort of equanimity—but Enforcement doesn’t attempt to play with this beyond paralleling how Amos and Jens are placed in a similar scenario where doing the right thing will compromise their standing in their community while saying nothing means death for another human.

The directors have cited 1970s and 80s genre titans as influences, like John Carpenter, Walter Hill, William Friedkin and Sidney Lumet, with the intention of marrying these auteurs with the power of contemporary narratives from Spike Lee or Mathieu Kassovitz. Even several members of the press have likened Enforcement to Carpenter and Hill. However, these genre auteurs were able to navigate cultural constructs in the subtext, which is what genre itself excels at as a narrative tool.

Enforcement strips away all subtext to instead bang us on the head with text, but it inadvertently highlights all the wrong angles. The Lee and Kassovitz titles, Do the Right Thing and La Haine, defended their disenfranchised and criticized the social hierarchy which denied their characters agency. Instead, Enforcement is more akin to Ladj Ly’s celebrated Les Misérables (2018), an exercise which also attempted to showcase the complexities faced by law enforcement by straitjacketing them into a pressure cooker blowing up in a similar marriage of convenience and retribution.


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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