By: Oberst von Berauscht (Two Beers) –
WWII is over, and thousands of surrendered German soldiers are being shipped out of Denmark. However, a good number are held behind by the Danish government for one last task; to sweep and defuse the coast for the thousands of land mines left behind in the wake of the occupation. Most of the German soldiers tasked with this are young boys, as the older, more experienced troops were either on the front lines, or dead, or more likely both.
One cantankerous Danish Sergeant is given fourteen boys to train and send out on the beach in an area on the west coast. The boys just want to go home, and have been promised as much if they accomplish their task, but the danger is real.
Director Martin Zandvliet knows how to frame a shot, and the beaches of Denmark have seldom been presented more beautifully. The cold reality that these beaches conceal a massive threat of land mines is hammered home early on. The contrast of these hidden dangers and the attractive beauty of the beach conjures a powerful image.
The cast of young actors playing the German soldiers are pitch-perfect in their roles; most are in their late teens, some considerably younger, but they all bear the marks of war. Past traumas haunt them, and their knowledge of the deadly odds they’re still facing is frightening. In vulnerable moments, their lost childhood betrays them, as they speak longingly about the home they left behind, not knowing if that home is even waiting for them when they get back. In one of the film’s heartbreaking moments, a boy talks to the Sergeant about memories of his father, and the Sergeant realizes that the odds are very good the boy’s father was killed by the war.
The film’s real heart, though, is the Sergeant, who is shown early on holding no level of sympathy towards surrendered German soldiers, to the point where he quite violently beats one down for a perceived slight. The Sergeant is an angry man with a poisonous temper, and no compunction with taking it out on others.
The Sergeant’s anger and frustration against the German army is virulent, but over time he develops a relationship with the boys- not necessarily a sympathy, but at least an empathy towards their situation. Eventually, he aligns with them as an advocate for their better treatment, a long path to travel considering his starting point.
The one thing that prevents the movie from being in the top tier of 2016 releases for me is that it follows a template which feels very predictable. Every moment of tension that occurs in the movie feels calculated and pre-determined. The language of film is telegraphed too clearly, and it is easy to tell when something bad is going to happen before it does.
Predictability isn’t a deal-breaker for me, but I do weigh it against more innovative or unique stories when writing a review.
Land of Mine is a tense, gut-wrenching thriller that makes you care for everyone involved and it is heartbreaking to witness the inevitable results of their situation.
Land of Mine (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: when a mine is defused
Take a Drink: every time the Sergeant yells at the German kids
Do a Shot: whenever a mine goes off
Do a Shot: on the rare occasion where you actually see someone smile