Film Review: Schneider vs. Bax

A darkly comedic assassin tale
Film Review : “A darkly comedic assassin”

Schneider vs. Bax

From the Netherlands comes writer/director Alex Van Warmerdam’s Schneider vs. Bax (Van Warmerdam also plays one of the leads, Ramon Bax). This is a crime/thriller leaning heavily in the dark comedy category. The absurdity, carelessness and lack of realism is what makes this one fun. There isn’t really a good guy or hero to root for; just 2 men with prior engagements forced into a job pitted against each other.

The 2 leads may share the same profession, but couldn’t be more different. Schneider (played by Belgian born Tom Dewispelaere) is the the slick, professional, careful hitman, with the perfect family life at home. In fact its his birthday and is scheduled to celebrate with a party at home. That is, until he gets called upon by his contractor Mertens (Gene Bervoets). He is left with little choice but to do a supposed quick job so he can enjoy his birthday with his beatiful wife and 2 young daughters. Meanwhile, Bax is the ageing divorced, writer/hitman dealing with issues of depression and struggling with drug and alcohol use. He’s engaged in a fling with a much younger woman when we meet him whom he obtrusively kicks out of his place to make room for his middle aged daughter who is coming for a yearly visit. The sets up the location for the film as the bulk of the story takes place outside of Bax’s lake house situated on a swampy lake in the country.

This is the first I’ve seen from Van Warmerdam and while it’s not quite serious enough to be considered a masterpiece, it’s a refreshingly odd and humorous break from typical Hollywood fare. I’ve heard his style described as unique, bizarre, dark and grim. This film is a lot more fun than I expected from a movie centred on hitmen. There are a series of mishaps one after another leading the pair to their ultimate confrontation.

One of the highlights in the film is Bax’s daughter Francisca (played by Maria Kraakman). Once she arrives things really start going wrong for poor Bax. Francisca comes in depressed, whiny and overall down on life. Her Father’s meagre attempts to help by offering her drugs or alcohol only sends Francisca further into a tizzy, running off into the near-by swamp. There is a strength about her character though, displaying a will to live and doing whatever it takes in the process. However down on her luck and depressed Francisca feels, when the situation gets critical, Francisca keeps calm and cool. While Papa Bax buckles to the pressure, Francisca stays determined to save both her and her clumsy hitman of a Father from the cold, professional killer, Schneider.

The tension picks up but the calamity continues. New characters show up to the lake house to futher confuse the situation, they include Bax’s girlfriend with a younger man set to rob him, Bax’s aged Father along with a twenty-something girlfriend, a pimp, a prostitute and even the pair’s contractor makes an appearance.

While I wont spoil the ending, I will say there is more than a little bloodshed, some absurdly humorously dialogue and more nudity and drug use than Hollywood would certainly allow for. While the film is nothing groundbreaking, it’s a fun way to spend a couple of hours.

Schneider vs. Bax comes recommended and scores 3.8 smashes out of 5.

*Image copyright 2015 Graniet Film, Czar TV, VARA – All rights reserved.

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Text:
James Mallion
james@smashingmag.net

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