Hitman Attempts to Leave Behind a Life of Violence in Bloody ‘Polar’

If films and television series are any indication, few existences are as isolated as that of a hitman. This is certainly the case for Duncan Vizla (Mads Mikkelsen), aka The Black Kaiser, the protagonist of “Polar,” a bloody action film from Netflix based on a series of graphic novels of the same name by Victor Santos. A top assassin, Duncan is introduced on the eve of his 50th birthday, the age at which those in his field are expected to retire. However, before he can ride off into the sunset with his pension, a cool eight million, his associate Vivian (Katheryn Winnick) offers him two million for one final job. But of course, the situation proves to be a little more complicated, as Duncan finds out that he is in fact the intended target, and a journey filled with Tarantino-esque violence and dark humor ensues.

The man after Duncan is none other than the his former boss, wealthy weirdo Blut (British comedian Matt Lucas, in a twisted turn), whose motive isn’t that interesting — He’d rather just kill his former employee than pay him his pension. With Duncan dead, his money would revert to the company, as no hitman has a next of kin, a fact that is revealed by a former assassin living his best life in Detroit (Richard Dreyfuss, in a bizarre cameo). Blut, of course, doesn’t go after Duncan himself, but sends a ragtag group of assassins that includes his girlfriend, Hilde (Fei Ren). These characters are pretty one-note, sadistic goons, although there is a brief attempt to humanize one of them, Sindy (Ruby O. Fee), after she has a run-in with an abusive pervert during the quest to find Duncan.

“Polar” is at its best during the scenes in which Duncan attempts to accumulate into a “normal” life in rural Montana. Mikkelsen is amusing to watch as his navigates daily life, shopping at the local store and watching “Downton Abbey.” He strikes up a friendship with a down-to-earth local, Camille (Vanessa Hudgens), who upon hearing his fib about being a funeral director, suggests he speak at the local elementary school, which goes smoother than one would think.

Animal lovers be forewarned, as director Jonas Åkerlund and screenwriter Jayson Rothwell break a cardinal rule here by having their hero harm a four-legged creature, albeit by accident. As disturbing as this scene is, it serves to show how difficult it is for Duncan to relax, as he is on his guard 24/7, for good reason, as it turns out. The action become more tension-fueled and less gratuitous when Duncan’s newfound tranquility is disturbed upon the arrival of some unwelcome guests.

Polar” premieres Jan. 25 on Netflix.