In Order of Disappearance

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 07/23/14 13:16:59

"Revenge as deadpan comedy."
5 stars (Awesome)

SCREENED AT THE 2014 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Where is the exact line between a movie being a darkly funny revenge story and a full-on, pitch-black dark comedy? In the case of "In Order of Disappearance", I think it is crossed early on in a gag that will recur throughout the movie, although it may seem to waver back and forth as the story unfolds. By the time it's over, though, this reunion of the team behind "A Somewhat Gentle Man" has produced something that is both darker and funnier than that impressive movie.

It opens with Nils Dickman (Stellan Skarsgård) receiving an award for Citizen of the Year for his contributions as a plowman in the Norwegian town he immigrated to some years earlier - only to later find out that his son Ingvar has died of a drug overdose. His belief that Ingvar was no addict is vindicated when he learns that the young man was killed because a co-worker at the airport stole a bag of cocaine from the shipment. Nils finds that man that did it and who gave the order, proceeding to work his way up the ladder toward Ole Forsby (Pål Sverre Valheim Hagen), "The Count" of the local drug trade. Of course, this sleek second-generation kingpin naturally assumes that it was his Serbian rivals, setting a chain of events into action that angers that mob's "Papa" (Bruno Ganz).

You can play this material straight - even with some of the more offbeat characters - and have a fine revenge movie, and superficially writer Kim Fupz Aakeson and director Hans Petter Moland spend most of their time doing just that: The movie isn't filled with Rube Goldberg devices, slapstick, or morons succeeding at things because nobody expects actual violent crime in peaceful Oslo; it's people doing the dark business that they set out to do in serious fashion. That keeps the audience involved in the story and lets things ramp up, but also gives them plenty of time for deadpan asides.

And there are plenty of those, from Serbian criminals' befuddlement at the humane Norwegian prison system to gangster nicknames to whether a yuppie vegan gangster like The Count would let his son eat Froot Loops for breakfast. While the material gets a little broader as the film goes on, it's often pitch-black and bone-dry, the kind of jokes that get big laughs at home or in a theater packed with like-minded people but which might get a scattered, nervous reaction from a room filled with people whose tastes don't run quite so much to the odd. Aakeson and Moland only occasionally fully push things into the realm of the absurd, so they're able to keep building as they go.

They've got a cast well-suited to the task, too. Stellan Skarsgård is good as ever, never losing the sense of parental rage that kicks everything into action, even if there is a moment or two where it's almost self-parody, but never letting that get in the way of making something horrible funny by saying it in a completely straight-faced manner - or bringing the same sort of simple, matter-of-fact delivery to how snow removal isn't just a job for him, but a field he likes to keep on top of. Peter Andersson is a great bit of casting as Nils's brother; the shared sense of humor and tension between them is just right, and Andersson gets one of the most quietly awesome scenes of the movie. Pål Sverre Valheim Hagen, on the other hand, gets to play manic, a hilarious egotist whose front as the owner of a trendy chain of bakeries is pitch-perfect, especially as there's very little dividing line between that and being a sociopathic gangster . He's tremendously funny. Somewhere in between is Bruno Ganz, a somewhat late arrival as the elderly head of the Serbian mob who is sometimes surprisingly funny beneath his old-school solemn criminality. Even beyond them, there are a couple dozen or so characters, many there to meet unfortunate ends, who all make a good, amusing impression in their time on screen.

It's a striking movie to look at, too, as Moland and Aakeson once again set things in the middle of a Norwegian winter, only this time the snow-covered vistas cinematographer Philip Øgaard captures are not blackened by exhaust and drizzle but overwhelming, just short of threatening to swallow the characters and making the city an oasis - you understand why cars are required to travel in convoys behind plows like the one Nils drives even if it's not an immediately present danger. It's a clever reflection of how the plot of the movie works - everyone keeps telling Nils that he's dead and doesn't know what he's dealing with before he punches them in the face anyway, because this is a guy whose whole life is smashing through overwhelming forces of nature.

Which, I guess, makes the whole movie a subtle metaphor for brute force, which is in its way just as amusing as the film itself - the blackest of comedies in the whitest of environments.

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