Writer and director Ulaa Salim taps into the tortuous topic of terrorism with his feature debut Sons of Denmark. Set in the near future, the plot follows Muslim teenager Zakaria (Mohammed Ismail Mohammed) in the wake of a major bomb attack in Copenhagen. Feeling marginalised due to the rise of a right-wing political group, he is led down a dark path where he meets Malik (Zaki Youssef) and the pair are assigned an extremely dangerous mission.
There’s a brilliantly patient build-up in the first act as Salim carefully establishes the complex, politically charged landscape in which the story unfolds. The camera observes Zakaria as a loving son and caring brother within the family home, and we’re initially introduced to Malik as an emotionless mercenary. The two protagonists share a compelling dynamic until a pivotal scene shocks the narrative, cleverly shifting the focus. Several of the film’s big moments are amplified by a prominent but unobtrusive operatic score, and the stylish visuals really help to compliment a script which heightens the sense of frustration and unrest caused by government corruption.
Sons of Denmark is a harrowing yet thrilling directorial debut from Ulaa Salim, smartly immersing its audience in a morally duplicitous epic, urging us to choose sides when it’s never really clear who to root for. Mohammed, Youssef, and Bjerg deliver a terrific triad of visceral performances as deeply fallacious individuals, enhancing and elevating the piece to one of the year’s best.