Olle (Kristoffer Joner) wakes up in the back seat of a car on a ferry. He has no idea where he is, or why he’s wearing a mask, or why his T-shirt is covered in someone else’s blood. Behind him, the police are checking every car on the ferry. In the front seat, there’s a bag stuffed with cash – and, just in case he thought he might have come by it legally, there’s a gun in there too. We’re only two minutes into The Machinery and already Olle is in a world of trouble.
In other Nordic noirs you might expect a flashback about now, explaining just how Olle got into this situation. The whole series might even be a flashback, painstakingly establishing the character and situation, a procedural mystery that hooks us in by giving us a glimpse of how it all turns out. But The Machinery is a very different kind of Nordic crime drama, with a very different story to tell.
Olle sees the cops, grabs the bag, pulls down his cap and starts walking. There’s no time for flashbacks here: what follows is a lot closer to something like The Bourne Identity. We still get pieces of the puzzle – Olle has a wife and child back on dry land; there’s a good chance the cash is from a robbery where at least one security guard was killed – but the focus is on Olle, and he’s on the run.
The obvious question is why. He doesn’t seem like a man comfortable with armed robbery, and just because he woke up in a car with the proceeds of crime doesn’t mean he’s guilty. An innocent man would hand himself in, and work with police to try and figure out what’s going on. Instead, when he discovers the ferry he’s on is turning back to Sandefjord where the robbery took place, he keeps running. Even when he finally gets away, the questions keep coming. What exactly has Olle got himself into? And what does it have to do with a hostage situation playing out on dry land?
The story here is told through action rather than exposition. Nina (Julia Schacht) is the lead cop in the investigation into the robbery, but her arrival is seen through Olle’s eyes – she’s just one of the detectives who board the ferry looking for suspects, and it’s only after he makes his escape and she’s the one who’s mad that we realise she’s going to be someone to pay attention to. It’s smart, streamlined storytelling, constantly keeping things moving while we gradually start to piece together the wider picture.
Olle isn’t some action superhero, and his attempts to stay one step ahead of the law are more about desperate acts than slick competence. It’s the kind of thriller where the possibility of failure is always there; unlike a lot of recent action films where you’re never in doubt the good guys will succeed and the only question is how, here there are plenty of moments where Olle could fail. Both the cops and the people who’ve put him in this situation have their own agendas; if he falls down, they’ll run right over him.
To sustain a Hollywood-style thriller over eight episodes, it’s not enough for Olle to be running from the police. He’s also running towards a solution, but the way he goes about it only deepens the mystery around him. Even when he doubles back to his house to reconnect with his (for now, unsuspecting) wife, the mysteries pile up; it’s hard to know whether he keeps his wedding ring on his right hand because it makes for a sweet connection when they hold hands, or he’s trying to hide the fact he has a family.
The fast pace keeps this series compelling to watch and the strong supporting cast make Olle’s plight (and his attempts to reconnect with his family) convincing, but it’s Joner’s performance that turns this collection of fast-moving parts into a real story. He’s competent enough to dodge the police, clumsy enough to hide a bag full of cash in his daughter’s room, and trying to piece together what happened the night of the robbery from blurry memories, all while it becomes increasingly clear that it’s his past – a life he left behind almost 20 years ago – that holds the clues to his future.
All he has to do is stay one step ahead of everyone around him while he looks for the answers. Good luck with that.
The Machinery is now streaming at SBS On Demand.
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