Here’s a nasty, darkly-funny thriller that gives new meaning to the phrase “Turkish Delight.”
“Chokehold,” titled “Boga Boga” in Turkish, is a “Will he get away with it?” murder mystery about a Ponzi scheme operator that everybody in Asia Minor seems to want dead. We have just enough time to consider our anti-hero’s guilt or innocence in that financial fraud case when locals start taking their opportunitistic shot at killing him.
But it’s pretty obvious pretty quickly that perhaps “they” should have thought this through. As guilt-ridden as Yalin (Kivanç Tatlitug) is, as soft as this city boy/son of wealth appears, you shouldn’t be shocked that just because you taunt him and threaten him or simply get the drop on him that he’s not going to fight back.
Yalin has returned to his father’s luxurious country house with wife Beyza (Funda Eryigit) to lay low after getting out of jail via some shady deal. He and his partners cost their fellow Turks hundreds of millions, and now he’s returned to his hometown, a place the ancient Greeks knew as “Assos” (near modern day Behram). He shouldn’t expect a warm welcome.
Beyza has a friend or two here, but every store and business Yalin enters lets him know he’s not wanted there. And then one hectoring, threatening shopkeeper takes things further. He grabs a rope and tries to choke Yalin to death.
We’re almost as surprised as he is that Yalin manages to fight his way free, and when his attacker proves unwilling to lay off, Yalin kills him. Considering everything that’s already hanging over Yalin, he can’t just drive off and pretend this didn’t happen, even though he starts to. He thinks about it just enough to return, grab the body and dispose of it.
It won’t be the last time.
Actor-turned director Onur Saylak sticks mostly with our not-exactly-poker-faced protagonist, and his star, the script and the direction conspire to make us sympathize with this guilt-ridden criminal who goes full tilt paranoid pretty quickly after this first attack. A scary “chat” with a local cop (Gürgen Öz) lets him know he has no friends here, that somebody’s going to get him and no one will care, and that he was seen at the shop where that now-missing choker who choked worked.
Literally everybody is out to get him. Well, maybe not his make the best of things, “At least we’re not dead” (in Turkish with subtitles, or dubbed into English) wife. But her lunches with a friend suggest she’s judging him, too. She has no idea what new sins he’s been adding to his tally.
We’re treated to a bit of the town’s ancient history, when Eubulus ruled and Aristotle came to teach. Our lecturer, being Turkish, declines to use the word “Greek” to describe the region’s most eminent personages. We glimpse the human trafficking — smuggling refugees to the Greek island of Lesbos — and can smell the corruption.
And we immerse ourselves in the crimes and the all important cover-up for those crimes.
Not all of “Chokehold” makes sense or seems logical. But as the threats rise and the deeds are done, Tatlitug and Saylay and screenwriter Hakan Gunday keep us engrossed and invested in this bad-man-turning-worse and his fate.
Their grip might not be as tight as Yalin’s, but the hold never loosens up as the suspense builds to cleverly cryptic finale.
Rating: TV-MA, violence, sex, smoking, profanity
Cast: Kivanç Tatlitug, Funda Eryigit and Gürgen Öz
Credits: Directed by Onur Saylak, scripted by Hakan Gunday. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:52