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Going deep: Actors, characters reveal everything in 'Aberdeen'

Friday, September 21, 2001

By Ron Weiskind Post-Gazette Movie Editor

It may be impossible to like the principal characters in "Aberdeen," now at the Regent Square Theater. But by the time the movie ends, we come to understand them -- largely because, in their physical and emotional trek, they begin to understand themselves and each other.


Rating: Unrated; contains nudity, sexual situations, drug and alcohol use, violence, vulgar language.

Starring: Stellan Skarsgard, Lena Headey, Ian Hart, Charlotte Rampling.

Director: Hans Petter Moland.

Critic's call:


Kaisa (Lena Headey) has just received a promotion in her London law firm. But her personal life has not progressed beyond feelings of hurt, abandonment and anger that stem from her childhood. She hates both of her parents but is about to be thrust into their lives with a vengeance.

Although she has not seen her father, Tomas (Stellan Skarsgard), in 10 years, Kaisa agrees to a request by her mother, Helen (Charlotte Rampling), to find him at his home in Norway and bring him back to Aberdeen. Helen says she wants the alcoholic Tomas to enter a new rehab program. What she doesn't tell Kaisa right away is that she is dying of cancer.

Kaisa almost literally has to drag Tomas along -- it's all he can do to walk even when he does want to go somewhere. The airline won't let him on the plane and Kaisa responds with such bile that she is banned from flying. This is just the first in a series of misadventures, ranging from Tomas throwing up all over Kaisa's expensive suit to a violent encounter with a gang of Scottish hooligans.

She mostly wants to be rid of him and vents her anger upon him throughout the trip, not caring how much she may hurt or humiliate him. He mostly wants to find a way not to go to Aberdeen and manages mostly to either embarrass both Kaisa and himself, not caring about much of anything beyond where his next drink will come from.

In lesser hands the movie would be interminable. But Headey and Skarsgard are remarkable in their emotional range, their ability to dig deep into the characters and find the souls each of them has buried beneath mounds of resentment or rivers of alcohol.

The degree to which they are willing to strip down to the core of their characters may be reflected in the almost casual nudity that Kaisa flashes in the early scenes and in the shocking moment when she pulls open a shower curtain and reveals Tomas with all defenses down.

Ian Hart adds some sorely needed counterpoint as Clive, a trucker who befriends Kaisa and Tomas and proves to be as uncomplicated as he is decent.

Director Hans Petter Moland's previous film, "Zero Kelvin," featured Skarsgard as a bully in an Arctic camp who, in the most extreme conditions, found himself in primal conflict with the other members of the group. "Aberdeen" pits its characters in a different kind of conflict that, primarily on an emotional level, cuts just as deep.

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