This film looks at radicalisation from two perspectives – one of Zakarias (Mohammed Ismail Mohammed), a young Iraqi refugee, who becomes entangled in an Islamic extremist group formed to fight back against the racist Sons of Denmark group. The other is that of Malik (Zaki Youssef), a government mole who begins to question his actions after letting Zakarias get arrested in the attempt to assassinate right-wing politician Martin Nordahl (Rasmus Bjerg), whose National Movement party is predicted to win the upcoming general election.
Director and writer Salim effectively shows the differing routes to radicalisation in way that feels fluid and natural, with Zakarias’s initial anger over racist attacks in his neighbourhood leading him to be introduced to the extremists and meeting Malik for training. In contrast, Malik’s genuine radicalisation comes after realising that saving Nordahl has emboldened the Sons and encouraged their further attacks on the Muslim community.
In addition, Salim also presents Zakarias and Malik’s turn to radicalised action as partially justified. He achieves this not only through establishing how both men fear that the violence will impact their respective families, but also by using news footage shown throughout the film that chronicle the rise of not only the Sons of Denmark, but also of Nordahl and his National Movement. This also draws attention to the growing threat of right-wing extremism in mainland Europe which, as seen in Malik’s disputes with his superior, is not taken as seriously as Islamic terrorism.
The presentation of Zakarias and Malik’s interaction with their families also establishes them as three-dimensional characters rather than as simplistic Muslim terrorist archetypes. Zakarias’ early scenes with his mother and admiring younger brother as well as Malik’s conversations with his wife and son provide both characters with visible inner lives as well as showing what is at stake in their fight against the far-right.
Mohammed, Youssef and Bjerg each convey their characters’ distinct personalities. Mohammed captures Zakarias’s initial naivety upon joining the extremist group as well as his more carefree attitude in comparison with its leader and Malik. Bjerg invests Nordahl with an affably menacing quality that makes his bigoted speeches seem eerily realistic – it’s easy to imagine a real-life counterpart getting elected Prime Minister. However, it is Youssef who provides the most powerful performance as Malik, depicting the character’s internal turmoil as he is torn between his job and his people with a painfully realistic edge that creates a lasting impression long after the film has ended.
In summary, Sons of Denmark is an eerily-realistic depiction of political issues that are currently sweeping through Europe through the eyes of two different men who share one faith.