Treading the often-precarious path between exploitative action movie and pointed social critique, this sinewy cop thriller from Danish directing duo Anders Ølholm and Frederik Louis Hviid makes its intentions clear from the outset. As the title card appears on screen – ‘shorta’ being an Arabic term for ‘police’ – the first sounds heard are those of a young Black man being brutally detained by law enforcement. His desperate screams of “I can’t breathe” reverberate with both painful pertinence and the stinging suggestion that what happened to George Floyd and Eric Garner is far from an exclusively American problem.
For a pair of first-time feature filmmakers, then, it’s quite the opening statement. From there, Shorta refines the focus, homing in on two officers (Simon Sears and Jacob Lohmann) who, after needlessly arresting a young resident (debutant Tarek Zayat), find themselves trapped in a Copenhagen suburb as tensions between police and locals start to boil over into violence.
While its thematic leanings might appear somewhat heavy-handed, Ølholm and Hviid have said they don’t consider Shorta to be a political film: rather, one about people. In that sense, their decision to frame the narrative through the vantage point of law enforcement is at once intriguing and reductive. Invoking the works of Walter Hill and Antoine Fuqua’s Training Day, what at first seems a rudimentary good cop/bad cop setup becomes – via a handful of all-too-neat plot contrivances – something altogether more ambivalent.
Similarly commendable is the impressive work of DP Jacob Møller, whose unpolished, handheld camera aesthetic shrewdly complements the gritty action sequences and increasingly murky morality. But in the end, this is a film far more comfortable operating within the parameters and conventions of genre than it is exploring the wider social issues invariably thrown up by its subject matter, disappointingly reducing many of the narrative’s true victims to little more than names and background news bulletins.
Ultimately, compelling themes from injustice to corruption, racial tensions to gentrification become brief footnotes in what is an often pulsating, occasionally gripping, sometimes misjudged slice of action fare. Shorta is stylish but underserved: loud without really saying much at all.
Released in cinemas and via digital platforms on Fri 3 Sept
Dir: Anders Ølholmi Frederik Louis Hviid (15, 108 mins)
words GEORGE NASH