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A Somewhat Gentle Man
Time Out New York Project: Issue #796, January 13-19, 2011
Dir. Hans Petter Moland. 2010. N/R. 105mins. In Norwegian, with subtitles. Stellan Skarsgård, Bjørn Floberg, Gard B. Eidsvold.
A wacky Norwegian gangster comedy starring the great Stellan Skarsgård? That sounds like it’s worth trekking through a few fjords to catch, and the initial scenes certainly show a good deal of promise. Ulrik (Skarsgård) is a vengeful ex-con with a Buster Keaton pout — a profoundly world-weary expression that’s as likely to elicit tears as guffaws. He emerges from prison after a 12-year stretch — a guard has to gently, humorously nudge him along — and apprehensively heads to an unknown destination. The film feels like it could go anywhere…until a cutesy-poo musical cue (sampling Tchaikovsky, no less) and a bit of goofy business with Ulrik’s mobster boss (Floberg) clues us in to the uneasy mix of woeful pathos and broad farce to follow.
Ulrik’s primary objective is to confront and kill the snitch who sent him to prison. Yet there are so many tonally incongruous narrative digressions — an estranged son to make amends with, a coworker to romance, even an on-the-QT gun purchase presided over by a hip-hop-styled dwarf — that the revenge-cum-redemption aspects finally seem like nothing more than pulp-fictional window dressing. Skarsgård somehow keeps his dignity through it all, even when he’s required to unflatteringly bare his ass and plow a repulsive landlady whom director Hans Petter Moland photographs with utter, ugly contempt. Easy sight gags are consistently favored over compassionate comedy. The film is best when it moves into more plaintive territory, as in a scene in which a melancholy Ulrik spies on his son and pregnant daughter-in-law, sharing in their happiness from afar. It’s moments like these when you see flickers of the dark dramedy that might have been.—Keith Uhlich
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