Writer-director Anders Thomas Jensen has already gained some international notoriety thanks to his offbeat screenplays for Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself and Open Hearts, so it should come as no surprise that his latest work pushes the boundaries of weirdness, yet manages to be a moving look into faith and redemption.
Adam's Apples opens with surly neo-Nazi thug Adam (Ulrich Thomsen), who's been sentenced to some sort of work-release program at a small rural church, meeting pastor Ivan (Mads Mikkelsen, Le Chiffre in Casino Royale), his supervisor. The two don't exactly hit it off right away, Adam being a nasty piece of work and Ivan seemingly lacking a sense of humor.
Adam also doesn't particularly cotton to the other cons staying at the church, a thief known for sexually assaulting women (Nicolas Bro), and a Saudi (Ali Kazim) who loves to rob gas stations owned by multinationals as a form of political protest.
But none of these criminals is nearly as weird as Ivan, who, Adam soon discovers, is something of a holy fool in serious denial about the terrible things that have happened to him during his life. The neo-Nazi determines to break down Ivan's seemingly unshatterable faith in goodness and redemption, and does--until a bizarre accident concludes the film on a pleasingly upbeat note.
Jensen's film is a chamber piece with only a handful of characters, and given the movie's seemingly irreconcilable parts--it includes slapstick comedy, surrealism, R-rated violence and religious symbolism--Adam's Apples needs a very sure hand to keep everything in line. That Jensen is able to do this is something of a small miracle in itself, and he is aided in no small measure by the very able cast, whose utter belief in the material shines through. Mikkelsen in particular is a joy to behold, his Ivan a tragic figure who eventually emerges as a true Christian soul, willing to turn the other cheek to help his charges reverse the downward trajectory of their lives.
And that, ultimately, is one of the things that make Adam's Apples special. It takes a probing look at religious belief, and is not afraid to point out its flaws and benefits. Yet it does this within a wacky context that would win the approval of Luis Buñuel, that most artistic of non-believers.