A film review by Craig J. Koban January 19, 2021



2020, R, 110 mins. 

Mads Mikkelsen as Martin  /  Thomas Bo Larsen as Tommy  /  Lars Ranthe as Peter  /  Magnus Millang as Nikolaj  /  Maria Bonnevie as Trine  /  Susse Wold as Rektor

Directed by Thomas Vinterberg  /  Written by Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm 

ANOTHER ROUND marks a rather triumphant re-teaming of Danish director Thomas Vinterberg and star Mads Mikkelsen (who last partnered up on 2012's THE HUNT) and it features arguably the most deliriously - ahem! - intoxicating premise of any movie from the year that was.  

There have been countless films about teachers, people suffering from mid-life crisis, and those afflicted with alcoholism, but this film manages to cover all three of those elements and blends them together into something that emerges as both darkly funny and touchingly dramatic all the same.  And at the heart of ANOTHER ROUND is the presence of the terribly underrated Mikkelsen (CASINO ROYALE and TV's HANNIBAL), who's the emotional glue that holds this film joyously together.  In a lesser actor and director's hands this could have approached disposable Will Ferrell-ian slapstick, but Vinterberg alongside his versatile and committed cast crafts a picture with relatable and potent themes of the benefits and dangers of using certain coping mechanisms to numb pain and get one out of an existentialist funk.   

And Mikkelsen in definitely in career high, Oscar caliber form here playing Martin, a Copenhagen based history teacher that's frankly lost his passion as an educator...and for just about everything else in his life.  When he's not trying to inspire his apathetic students he pathetically tries to keep his marriage to Anika (Maria Bonnevie) afloat, even though it has become clear that they now occupy a loveless union.  In short, Martin is a sad sack without much of a positive outlook for the future, an emotional state that hits his fellow teaching colleagues and BFFs in much the same manner - Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), Peter (Lars Ranthe), and Nikolaj (Magnus Millang).  When the men gather to celebrate Nikolaj's fortieth birthday they chat about the trials and tribulations of teaching unmotivated students, which is not assisted by the fact that none of them are particularly motivated at all.  What they need is a mutual intervention to wake them all up out of their doldrums to allow for them to gain a new outlook of their careers and lives. 

One of them brings up the real life theories of psychiatrist Finn Skarderud, who maintained a highly controversial, but tantalizing hypothesis about using alcohol to improve one's station in the world.  He proposed that someone having their blood alcohol level at a constant 0.05 throughout any given day makes one more confident, chill, and productive.  The men then have an epiphany: Why not test out this wild theory on daily binge drinking?  They then collectively decide to embark on a shared experiment that will require all of them to drink everyday and throughout the day to maintain the aforementioned level, but with very specific ground rules (like, for example, no drinking past 8pm and not getting sloshed beyond the established levels).  This plan is, of course, not without its inherent risks (showing up to work too hammered would be an occupational death sentence, especially while working with kids), but Martin and his cohorts decide to give it a go. 



It's at this stage in ANOTHER ROUND when viewers think they know precisely where the story is heading, but Vinterberg takes some novel and unexpected twists and turns with the material.  For starters, Martin's team experiment is actually a rousing success in the early stages, all things considered.  Martin in particular becomes the hip and cool teacher that his students have always wanted him to be, and he begins utilizing some out of the box teaching methods that help his history lessons feel more relatable and understandable.  Martin also begins to re-establish a healthy sexual relationship with his semi-estranged wife.  His partners in crime also begin achieving workplace excellence on the teaching front as well, with all of them finding innovative ways to reconnect with students they once found unreachable.  Of course, the men have to be more than careful on their drinking protocols (using breathalyzers daily to ensure they're not too out of sorts), but they all soon want to extend the experiment a bit further and take ever larger calculated risks, like, for instance, raising the blood alcohol level higher to see if they can still manage to push the envelope at work and home.  And, of course, when has drinking more heavily ever truly solved any problem? 

Again, the premise behind ANOTHER ROUND is thoroughly ingenious.  Now, I've been around people all of my life that have maintained that getting a little buzzed is essential for taking off the emotional edge after a hard day at work, but the plan by Martin as his pals pretty much does things in reverse: They can only drink during work hours to see if it positively or negatively affects their likeability and productivity.  Watching the story unfold becomes equal parts amusing and tense, seeing as these depressed middle aged men do manage to perform better on the job, but to what ultimate end game?  One of the more powerful themes of ANOTHER ROUND concerns the options that some downward spiraling people will look towards for the purposes of self-healing, with being inebriated daily the preferred choice for these guys.  Early on - and with the results boasting solid gains - these men feel vindicated and justified in their experiment, and some key scenes in the film are little masterpieces of observation.  One in particular is a standout and features Martin using some compelling analogies to get his students to think critically about the differences and similarities between various historical figures, good and bad.  Even though Martin is, yes, legally drunk, there's undeniable proof here that his students just seem more transfixed with him with his newfound personality shift.  He becomes the teacher everyone wants as opposed to before being one that everyone tries to avoid.  And to Martin...this is precisely what he wanted to achieve. 

But, again, at what cost?  It should be noted that ANOTHER ROUND never sensationalizes drinking or the terrors of alcoholism, but it rarely tries to sermonize messages down our throats about the obvious pratfalls involved in diving into the bottle too much.  No, Vinterberg's approach is much more sly and nuanced in terms of finding this difficult to navigate middle ground showing these men blissfully succeeding where they once didn't (and often to humorous effect) while also hinting that this plan - and its ever increasing elevated stakes - will ultimately lead to no good.  In many respects, there's merriment to be had in ANOTHER ROUND as well as darkness and dread; watching these men conquering their fields is uplifting, but you just know that a few slip ups on their journey will lead them down a horrible path and could cost them everything, including their jobs.  Martin himself is a fascinatingly layered character in terms of being a man that was once driven, but now is not...and he can't quite put his finger on the reasons as to why.  He feels detached from everyone and everything, so much so that he gives credence to the potential merits of drinking as a solution.  This whole experiment is indeed nutty, but ANOTHER ROUND does such an exemplary job of fleshing out these characters and making them feel real and relatable that you begin to buy into the reasons why these men would chose their experimental paths.  Booze does clean up the messiness of their lives at first, but as they up the ante they all find themselves in worse places than when they started.   

One of the best lessons that this film puts out is the harm that people can do to themselves even while thinking their actions can do no harm.  There's a real understanding of how desperate souls will try anything to get a new lease on life.  ANOTHER ROUND may superficially be about drinking and the dangers contained within, but it's more about sad men trying to reawaken themselves at a stage in life that's so hard on them.  And Mikkelsen crafts such a routinely complex performance here that really holds our attention and manages to make audiences root him on even when we know deep down this will all end badly for him.  Best of all, Mikkelsen never overplays his part, but instead conveys a lot through body language; he seems calm and collected on the outside, but inwardly he's screaming at the top of his lungs for help.  The Danish star is in complete command of every scene he occupies here, and he's well flanked by his superb supporting cast.  And everything around them feels lived in and authentic, which is a testament to Vinterberg's skills as a filmmaker in juggling the divergent tones in the story and somehow makes them homogenize together smoothly.  ANOTHER ROUND is a small scale film about big concepts and ideas, and it's an unquestionable crowd pleasing original and winner.  Yet, there's more going on under the surface as a commentary on middle age male fragility and finding avenues to navigate through sorrow and disillusionment, and this allowed the film to speak to me rather profoundly without succumbing to stale drama troupes about overcoming odds.  

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