By Nadia Dalimonte
Mads Mikkelsen in Another Round (2020)
There’s something so intoxicating about Mads Mikkelsen. He’s been delivering consistently great performances over the years, from his villainous turn in Casino Royale and his intriguing work on NBC’s Hannibal to his previous collaboration with Thomas Vinterberg on The Hunt. In Vinterberg’s latest, Another Round, Mikkelsen delivers his best work to date. He gives a remarkable lead performance in a thoughtful film that follows four high school teachers who start a drinking experiment to liven up their lives.
Mikkelsen plays Martin, a high school teacher who has become indifferent towards teaching and life in general. He can’t connect with his students, and his lack of enthusiasm becomes break room chatter. A group of teachers and students call a meeting with him so they could point out their concerns over his teaching methods hindering the students’ learning. Martin accepts their observations with a mere acknowledgment, but deep down, he knows something is missing as he watches life go by. His three teacher friends know it too. One night, the quartet go to friend Nikolaj’s 40th birthday dinner. His friends are no strangers to alcohol, and in observing how much fun they seem to be having while he contemplates, Martin quietly breaks down from a place of emptiness. “I don’t do much […] I don’t see many people […] I don’t know how I ended up like this”, he explains to the table. It’s such a remarkable piece of acting from a very gifted performer who can speak a thousand words with a single look, and Vinterberg knows it. Mikkelsen has many, many close-ups throughout the film.
Martin’s friends think he lacks self-confidence and joy. They urge him to drink…loosen up, have fun, become interesting and alive. Martin takes a sip, opens up, and soon enough they all find themselves having a great night where they feel alive. Holding onto the feeling, the four friends decide to conduct a study on the effects of drinking at consistently low levels, using themselves as the subjects. What ensues is a dangerous, threatening and at times humorous balance of teaching while trying to keep up with this study.
What makes Another Round tick is the way Vinterberg observes the comedic and dramatic elements of alcoholism. He delves into various degrees of drinking, constantly shifting the tone to show how easily one can spiral into addiction just from curiosity. Instead of limiting the film around one perspective, he observes the many ways alcohol affects people. While some fall down devastating paths, others have never felt more productive. Interestingly, none of the characters ever incorporate just one perspective. Some become worse off than others, but they’re all upholding a constant low level of intoxication that gives them each what they consider personal highs. Vinterberg does character work very well.
Mikkelsen in particular sees a strong arc that builds from quiet and unconcerning to spontaneously assertive. Martin finds himself more excited by and dedicated to his lessons, leaving his students buzzing as they leave his class. He finds confidence professionally, which trickles down to his family life as he asserts himself more in the house, particularly as a husband. It’s a side to him that his wife hasn’t seen in a long time, so much so that when he hints at a spontaneous canoe trip and actually books it, she takes a coinciding night shift at work anyway, not thinking he was actually serious. Martin’s relationship with his wife Trine (Maria Bonnevie) had been stalled for some time, and the more he pushes his alcohol intake to up the stakes, the more they suffer as underlying issues are brought to light.
As much as the film plays out its dramatic beats, it’s also a celebration of life, which lays the foundation for a totally joyous ending sequence that comes out of nowhere but still feels completely in place. Another Round leaves a lasting impression about the lengths that people dare go in order to pull themselves out of a midlife crisis and feel something again. Even if they don’t reach a real state of happiness, the moments of relief are refreshing to watch.