When we’re first introduced to our 18-year-old protagonist Casper, played by newcomer Gustav Dyekjær Giese, he’s committing a house robbery, a despicable crime, where innocent people such as you and I are the victim. Inevitably, our feelings towards the youngster are cold, as an instant, bad impression is formed. Yet the viewer can’t help but be sympathetic to his plight, as he’s emblematic of a broken community, as Danish filmmaker Michael Noer takes us deep into the unforgiving, criminal underworld of Northwest.

Having built up a reputation for stealing valuable possessions, and selling them on to Jamal (Dulfi Al-Jabouri) and Ali (Ali Abdul Amir Najei), Casper is approached by the shrewd kingpin Bjørn (Roland Møller) to work on his behalf, where the stakes are raised, and the wads of cash thicker. However his affluence is short-lived, as his former associates are seeking revenge for him finding another buyer. Tensions mount as a potential gang warfare looms, while Casper is doing all that he can to protect his younger brother Andy (played by the actor’s real life sibling, Oscar Dyekjær Giese), from following the same, treacherous path that he has taken himself.

Primarily, what allows for us to empathise with Casper, is the exceptional performance by an actor who was previously non-professional. Initially he seems elusive and somewhat detached, emotionally, but as the picture goes on he becomes more vulnerable and lets the viewer in, allowing us to see the potential that exists, and the naive adolescent behind the belligerent facade. Noer is sure to implement the more intimate side to the role, as we see him be juvenile and playful with his brother, and protective and paternal with his younger sister. He’s accused of having a fiendish obsession with money, and yet when he starts making it, he just wants to treat others, and support his family and friends. This is a notion explored heavily by Noer, as the juxtaposition between Casper’s two lives is discernible, and displayed most explicitly when he leaves his sister’s birthday party to potentially go and kill somebody.

That’s not to excuse his behaviour – he’s callously thuggish at times, but Noer ensures we see him as a product of a fractured society, as he’s indicative of a fatalistic environment where young people have a distinct lack of opportunities available to them, and fall victim to manipulative, older criminals who recruit kids just like Casper and Andy. Allowing us to invest in them, and root for their survival is essential to this film working, as we need that to feel any suspense in the latter stages, when rooting for Casper’s survival. Meanwhile, Møller – also a complete unknown actor prior to working with Noer back on his debut feature R – plays the role of Bjørn with such conviction and subtlety, blending an authoritative, intimidating side with a certain charm and charisma that makes him exceedingly easy to believe in.

But it’s the gritty realism that sets this film apart from so many other dramas of this ilk. Noer thrives in being naturalistic, as the former documentarian has hired real life criminals to star in his piece (one of which had to return to prison straight after the shoot), to help us peer into this world through those that know it best. Comparisons to the likes of Pusher and Easy Money are expected, given the similarities in the narrative structure, yet this is a far less stylised affair, instead concerned with creating a harrowingly immersive experience. In a sense, this is more akin to recent British dramas such as My Brother the Devil and Sixteen – which is certainly no bad thing.

Northwest is an intense, compelling character study that continues on the golden era of Scandinavian cinema, and the current wave of exceptional features coming out of Denmark, where realism is the most prevalent aspect, are not too far removed from the influential Dogme 95 movement. Noer, alongside the likes of Tobias Lindholm and Pilou Asbæk, are at the forefront of the recent wave, having already spawned films such as The Hunt and A Hijacking. Well this is another truly accomplished, unforgettable piece to add to the exclusive list. Keep ’em coming, guys.