The 6th Vares movie – Vares – Kaidan tien kulkijat (The Path of the Righteous Men) – is this reviewer’s least favorite film in the series. This is not really due to any technical standard. In fact, from some kind of objective, “cinematic” viewpoint, this is probably one of the better movies in the series. Because of this, we should probably start by discussing what works.
Stylistically, this is one of the best Vares films. Shot in a small Finnish village, and on the Finnish countryside, there are lots of beautiful, evocative shots of fields, forests and dilapidated industrial
buildings. Its plot is also more straightforward than usual, in the sense that there are fewer characters and a clear narrative, while having its share of surprises, twists and turns. The beautiful shots, consistent environments and well-integrated plot are all factors that contribute to making this the “tightest” Vares movie to date. The actors’ contributions also all range from acceptable to great, and there’s lots of well-directed suspense to keep you motivated to watch. Oh, and it’s got Jarmo Mäkinen.
Now to the weak point, which is mainly a script and story issue. Almost the entire cast of villains, townsfolk and parishioners in the small town to which Jussi Vares arrives to investigate a murder, is absurd, and this time in a bad way. In fact, the impression one gets is that some New York intellectual decided to write down all his prejudices about Bumsville, Alabama, and then remade them into a movie script about rural Finland. While there is no lack of charismatic Christianity in Finland, the concept of inbred hicks being bamboozled by a cartoonishly slimy preacher – who of course is also burdened by all sorts of perversions and substance abuse issues – is boring to the point of being disgusting.
My criticism is not, to be clear, a simple matter of the stereotypical portrayal of one or a few characters. Stereotypes and generalizations are, after all, the lifeblood of movies, and even fundamental to orienting ourselves in reality. An occasional hick or hypocritical pastor won’t kill anyone, and I’d hate to be called a snowflake. The larger issue here is rather the portrayal of the countryside in general, and the consequences for the quality of the movie. Apart from the fallen, atheist, alcoholic priest who calls Vares to the village and the protagonist himself, there is hardly one person who is not a bumbling idiot, a corrupt phony or at the very least (the ladies) sexually frustrated.
Finnish films are generally full of stereotypes unthinkable in modern Hollywood films – Swedes are often portrayed as complete idiots, and played by Finns with absolutely no knowledge in the language, reading lines written by other Finns with very, very little of the same. In an age of “PC” such things can be somewhat refreshing, and even more importantly it makes many Finnish films extremely unpredictable. Nothing is stopping the discriminated-against minority character from turning out to be a monstrous asshole (cf. Häjyt). You just can’t know in advance.
In the case of Kaidan tien kulkijat however, the stereotypes are of the very worst kind, as far as movies go. This is big city intellectual contempt for the countryside, imported from the U.S. and forced unto an unsuspecting Finland in a way that just pisses this reviewer off. Once again not first and foremost for moral reasons, but because it makes the movie boring. This is the first and the last Vares movie where it is fairly easy to predict large chunks of the plot just from looking at the characters.
All that being said, you probably know if the issues pointed out above would bother you. If not, The Path of the Righteous Men is possibly one of the more solid Vares movies. At the very least, it is very pretty to look at, but in this reviewers opinion its ill-chosen import of American anti-ruralism makes it predictable and annoying to an unacceptable degree.
Luckily, having left this film behind us, it’s all smooth sailing from here, and the last (?) three entries in the series are all just different shades of awesome.