Trials of the “Norwegian Ninja”


Norwegian Ninja

dir. Thomas Cappelen Malling

Release Date: Aug 30, 11

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Norwegian Ninja is potentially the strangest, most unique film ever made about a Cold War traitor recast in his own story as a patriot and ninja. Let me back up. In 1984, Arne Treholt was convicted of treason in Norway after surrendering secrets to the Soviet Union and Iraq. He was put away for 20 years, in what still stands as Norway’s most infamous espionage scandal. Ninja, then, is a piece of revisionist history in which Treholt was not a traitor, but instead a clandestine national hero who fell on his sword to save the “ignorant masses.”

About that “ignorant masses” thing. You could construct a drinking game out of every time that term is uttered during Ninja‘s lean 80-minute runtime. There’s a cockeyed sense of humor about the film, but also a weariness with the political process. In this bit of history, American interference is the terror from outside, and the population’s maintained fear of a communist threat, real or otherwise, is of the utmost importance. To a point it’s sardonic and effectively weird, but after a time Ninja actually turns hopeless; the canonization of in-house terrorism is at the core of this, which is perhaps the ultimate joke director Thomas Cappelen Malling is aiming for.

Mads Ousdal is a dead ringer for Treholt circa the mid-80s, and his performance is the highlight of the film. Conflicted only by his relentless pride for country, and the need to preserve the “Norwegian way of life: soverignty and self-reliance,” Treholt is posed as the John Rambo of secret ninja spy organizations. And yes, the film gets as goofy as that last statement sounded, with characters frequently appearing in and out of the frame via smoke bombs and wires being notably visible during some fight sequences.

The action is good for the notably B-movie budget, with a tryout sequence for the ninja squad standing as particularly memorable. The film’s biggest error is that, even at such a short runtime, it still feels overlong at points. The portion of the film in which Bumblebee (Amund Maarud) goes through his training montage is far too dull, and though it’s essential for the film’s big final payoff, there’s not enough stimulation along the way. Norwegian Ninja isn’t an unqualified success, but it’s entertaining, and if tonight you’re looking for a revisionist Cold War historical action dramedy with ninja violence, look no further.