[Ed. note: This review first appeared as part of Polygon’s coverage of the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival. It has been updated for the film’s digital release.]
The latest film from The Hunt and Far from the Madding Crowd director Thomas Vinterberg is remarkable on several levels. For one thing, Another Round cements Mads Mikkelsen’s place as one of our greatest living actors. For another, it puts all other contemporary midlife-crisis movies to shame.
Usually, the genre is broadly split between comedy (Grown-Ups, Wild Hogs) and drama (Sideways, The Weather Man). But while both lanes sometimes dig into painfully relatable territory, midlife-crisis movies often end fairly flatly, with infantile men (and it’s usually men) finally learning the importance and virtue of growing up. Another Round, which focuses on four schoolteachers, resists any easy answers or endings, but still reaches a startlingly cathartic conclusion.
Mikkelsen stars as Martin, a high-school history teacher who leads a dull, staid life. He sleepwalks through his lessons and his home life with two teenage sons and a wife (Maria Bonnevie) he barely speaks to, as she works night shifts. Then a night out with three longtime friends and fellow teachers reveals a way to put a little excitement back into his life. As the men drink, they discuss the work of Norwegian psychologist Finn Skårderund, who wrote that all humans have deficient blood alcohol content, and should try to maintain a level of 0.5%. The next day, Martin takes a flask and a breathalyzer to work, and finds that he’s actually a more engaging teacher when he’s drunk. When his friends find out what he’s done, they decide to join in on the experiment, beginning a journal to document their findings. Interstitial cards of text help the audience keep track of their progress, keeping tabs on each character’s BAC.
Gym teacher Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), chorus teacher Peter (Lars Ranthe), and psychology teacher Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) all begin sneaking alcohol into the school and teaching under the influence. Initially, they all feel the same boost in success and confidence that Martin does, but as they up their daily doses, the plan begins to unravel. The alcohol isn’t the root of the problem, however, so much as it’s a way of highlighting the problems they had before the experiment began.
That distinction is what makes the men’s descent into alcoholism so difficult to watch. They’re putting a temporary band-aid on the larger wounds present in their lives, and making those wounds worse by drinking. Alcohol seems to be the only thing capable of dulling the sharp edges of their long-held frustrations, but it’s a short-term solution. Vinterberg miraculously keeps the proceedings from becoming unbearably dark through small moments that make it clear the film isn’t an overall indictment of alcohol, such as a scene in which the men egg Martin on to perform some moves from his jazz-ballet dancer past by attempting to dance themselves.
Larsen, Ranthe, and Millang are all terrific — acting drunk in a convincing way is no small feat, especially as they go through varying degrees of intoxication — but the film is ultimately Mikkelsen’s show. The actor’s sharp features have largely relegated him to villainous roles in mainstream American movies and television, from Le Chiffre in Casino Royale to Kaecilius in Doctor Strange to Hannibal Lecter in Hannibal. Off-camera, his apparent goofiness and lack of pretension — just check the Twitter account “Mads Mikkelsen Doing Things” — have made him even more popular. It all makes it easy to forget that he’s capable of the kind of subtle, realistic performance that made his previous collaboration with Vinterberg, The Hunt, so devastating.
The cartoonish premise of Another Round remains within the realm of possibility almost solely thanks to the many close-ups on Mikkelsen’s features. His face can communicate myriad emotions with just the subtlest shifts, and Vinterberg wisely takes advantage of his leading man’s capabilities. The way Martin struggles with his frustrations with the outside world as well as with himself are most clearly broadcast on his face, and in his body language.
On the surface, Another Round isn’t a particularly timely or relevant film. The problems these four white men face aren’t exactly ground-breaking; midlife crises are common fodder for film. But Vinterberg’s ending offers an unlikely sense of catharsis, even though it isn’t truly happy, turning the film into something fresh and affecting. On top of all that, the film provides the opportunity to watch Mikkelsen give perhaps his best performance yet.