Mads Mikkelsen gets humorous in “Men & Chicken”

By Min-Wei Lee

Via Twitch Film

Mads Mikkelsen, of “Hannibal” and “Casino Royale” fame, joins Danish writer and director Anders Thomas Jensen (“Adam’s Apples,” “The Green Butchers”) in “Men & Chicken,” a refreshing black comedy that casts the actor in a role so far removed from his characteristic performances that his very presence on screen elicits uncomfortable laughter from the audience. The director opts out of creating an over-the-top comedic spectacle by grounding the film in simple yet effective character-centric camerawork and a muted color palette of earthy tones. Such realism enables the audience to suspend its disbelief and fully immerse itself in what is essentially a family adventure about self-discovery and acceptance.

The name Mads Mikkelsen tends to conjure up images of a suave, serious, albeit villainous character in the minds of most moviegoers. The 49-year-old is most famous for playing antagonist Le Chiffre in “Casino Royale” (2006) and, most recently, adeptly taking up the mantle of one of cinema’s most notorious serial killers, Hannibal Lecter, in NBC’s operatic eponymous TV series, “Hannibal” (2013–15).

In “Men & Chicken,” Mikkelsen is a caricature. Sporting a thick moustache over a cleft lip, Mikkelsen plays Elias, an oblivious, sex-crazed man-child who reunites with his brother Gabriel (David Dencik) upon the death of their father and the discovery of their adoption. With questions about their mysterious parentage, the brothers set out on a quest to find their birth father, which leads them to a remote island so small that it’s under threat of being struck off the map by authorities. Their search ultimately brings them to a large, decrepit sanatorium overrun by a motley crew of farm animals and inhabited by their three long-lost and completely insane half-brothers. In an attempt to find out the truth about their origins, the brothers integrate with the household residents, all of whom have nothing in common but their unfortunate hideousness.

Part fairytale, part mystery and part comedy, “Men & Chicken” evades any attempt at genre categorization. Wrapped in a thick layer of strangely endearing absurdity, the audience finds itself simultaneously charmed and disturbed by the eccentricities and erratic behavior of the dysfunctional band of brothers, whose ridiculous antics allow for the exploration of darker themes. Under the veneer of near slapstick silliness, Jensen lays the foundation for a serious existential contemplation of the idea of humanity, embellished by underlying threads of violence and transgression.

“Men & Chicken” made its North American debut at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival.

Min-Wei Lee is a contributing writer. Email her at film@nyunews.com

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