In 2010, Stellan Skarsgård teamed for a third time with director Hans Petter Moland to make a sunshiny film about a gangster getting out of prison, having an existential crisis and killing a snitch. A Somewhat Gentle Man is a smart crime comedy with its tongue forcibly shoved into its cheek, and now Skarsgård and Moland have returned with a worthy follow-up in the same cold vein.
In Order of Disappearance sees Skarsgård playing a Coenesque ice plow driver who clears a path through the wilderness and minds his own business. When his son is killed by drug dealers, he works his way up the food chain, maintaining everyman status while bloodying noses. The story blossoms when he learns the name of the big boss, letting us get to know two crime families and their dysfunctions.
Nils the snow plow driver is not at all a complex character, but Skarsgård (without surprise) maintains a balance between the small town citizen of the year and ruthlessly effective revenge fan aspects. He, as usual, doesn’t even have to change his windblown face to morph his demeanor from sweetly direct to ruthlessly efficient. The movie is more Fargo than Taken, though. It opens in white desolation, shifts to kill-rinse-repeat, and then becomes a dark comic descent aided by an inept crime lord (played by a 1980s ponytail-rocking Pål Sverre Hagen). It’s also increasingly funny and ridiculous in equal measure.
Blankness is a major theme running throughout. Most obvious is the endless expanse of snow Nils carves up every day, sending flurries of white into a white sky over white land. There’s also some stolen cocaine (which also blends right in with the frost) and a wordless anger that overcomes Nils’ wife after their son dies.
Then there’s the title. This isn’t a story so much about death, but about erasure. As Nils works his way up the food chain, he wraps the bodies in chicken wire before tossing them over an impossibly high waterfall where they disappear into the maw of the earth.
Like the Coens’ film, there’s a tangled web fueled by fatal misunderstandings, an everyman character drawn into a world of violence and a shoulder-shrug/blood-spurting attitude toward death. There are even interstitial titles that crop up every time anyone dies, sharing their name with a small religious icon. They offer levity after the darker moments, but as you see them more frequently, they manage to imprint just how many lives have been lost in the course of the story. In Order of Disappearance may not kill more people than the average crime movie, but it certainly feels that way.
The experience fits right in the dry comic, crime movie sweet spot, but it’s still slight. It’s quick and to the gut when it needs to be and most of the awkward situations (like the delivery of a head in a bright pink box) let the laughter play out nicely. It’s fantastically entertaining, but it doesn’t feel like it adds up to much – the inevitable result of taking a blithe attitude toward the drama and destruction.
More than anything else, it’s further proof that Moland (with or without (but hopefully with) Skarsgård) needs to make a movie every year.
The Upside: Great kills, great cast and great crime comedy
The Downside: A slight feeling despite some prestige work
On the Side: The Norwegian title Kraftidioten loosely translates to “Power Idiots.”