Here’s something Hollywood “revenge” thrillers always get wrong. They always give their hero “special skills.” You know, what Liam Neeson bragged about in “Taken,” what Sly Stallone let others attribute to him in “Rambo.”
Real thrills and real engagement with such movies come from men and women out of their depth, people without those “skills” having to improvise and discover what they’re capable of.
Give me “Three Days of the Condor” or “Fargo” over “Taken” any day.
“In Order of Disappearance” gets this right. The darkest, funniest and best thriller of the summer comes with snow, subtitles and Scandinavia’s most durable character actor, Stellan Skarsgard, playing a man named “Dickman” who is truly in over his head.
This is a Norwegian “Death Wish” in which our hero has that most Norwegian working class job. He’s a snowplow driver.
Nils Dickman (Skarsgard) is a boringly reliable immigrant, a Swede among the Norwegians, who “is as Norwegian as they come” in Tyos, the small town where he runs the giant plows. It’s not far from a big international airport, which is where his adult son got a job as a baggage handler.
That job, and the son’s choice of friends, is how Ingvar got himself killed.
The cops figure it’s an overdose, and could not care less when Dickman insists “Ingvar was no drug addict.” His wife (Hildegard Riise) accepts this, blames Nils somehow, and withdraws into grief. Nils? He’s putting on his snowsuit, grabbing his hunting rifle and heading out to find some answers.
Those answers are hard-won. He gets first one name, then another. He improvises, stalks and surprises each henchman, bludgeoning, shooting and manhandling them to get to the next name, working his way toward the Mr. Big who is ultimately responsible for his kid’s death.
That guy is called The Count (Pal Sverre Hagen), and dotes on his own son as they’re chauffeured around in an exotic Fisker Karma as a limo. And when his minions start disappearing, his first thought is that the Serbian mob, led by the great German actor Bruno Ganz (“Downfall”), is behind it. Nobody named “Dickman” could possibly be responsible for all this mayhem, or so his villainous logic tells him.
That surname is the first hint that, as sad and brutally efficient as this blood-stained picture is, we’re in dark comedy territory. There’s more than a hint of “Fargo” in what director Hans Petter Moland (“Zero Kelvin”) is showing us.
Every dead body earns a black screen with a tiny white cross on it, and the name — with nickname (“Ronaldo,” “Jappe”) — of the villain Nils has somehow managed to dispatch. By the third time this happens, you’re laughing. By the time the body count starts to spike, you can’t help yourself.
Kim Fupz Aakeson has concocted a script with lazy Norwegian cops who shrug off violence with “This doesn’t HAPPEN here” and hitmen who marvel at climate’s role in those countries which have a healthy “welfare state.” The cold makes people keenly aware of much they need and depend on others. They need their roads plowed, for instance.
The Count should know that if you’re dealing with Serbian mobsters, you’d better know how much they still feel the sting of the Battle of Kosovo, which happened 627 years ago.
Skarsgard has carved out a wide niche for his varied and colorful acting career to inhabit. He’s stoic and unflinching here, a man on a mission. But even though that hint of whimsy that is his baggage — catch him in “Our Kind of Traitor,” if you can — may be hidden beneath the surface. We can still feel it.
Nils’ quick journey from peaceful, family man to avenger is just swift enough. Blood wipes right off of snowsuits, especially when you have the presence of mind to order take-out coffee and use the cardboard tray as an arterial spray-guard when you’re putting a bullet in someone.
When he’s asked, “When did YOU become Dirty Harry?”, we don’t have to wonder. Skarsgard has let us see Nils’ learning curve.
And you can guess, from the cast list, which old acting dogs have to face each other before all this can be resolved, even if the much-younger Hagen (“Kon Tiki”) makes a fine, furious heavy destined to have his place “In Order of Disappearance.”
MPAA Rating: R for bloody violence, and language throughout
Cast: Stellan Skarsgard, Bruno Ganz, Tobias Santelmann
Credits: Directed by Hans Petter Moland, script by Kim Fupz Aakeson.
Running time: 1:56. A Magnet release.