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Stellan Skarsgård executes Norwegian vengeance in 'In Order of Disappearance'

The trail of carnage is set in motion when a young man named Ingvar Dickman (Aron Eskeland) gets accidentally caught up in a gangland skirmish and winds up dead. The killing is chalked up to a heroin overdose, but Ingvar’s Swedish-born father,...

As a generally mild-mannered father undertaking a brutal course of revenge in “In Order of Disappearance,” Stellan Skarsgård might occasionally strike you as Scandinavia’s answer to Liam Neeson in the “Taken” movies. Then again, he might not. The comparison almost, but not quite, nails the quiet authority and steely intelligence of Skarsgård’s performance, and it does a gross disservice to this bleakly funny Norwegian crime thriller, an absorbing and atmospheric entry in what we might as well term the “red snow” genre.

Set against the kind of frigid, wintry landscape that exists to be stained by the sins and entrails of crooked men, the film — directed by Hans Petter Moland from a screenplay by Kim Fupz Aakeson — traces the slow and steady pileup of dead bodies signaled by its title. Each fresh victim is memorialized with a black title card listing his name and religious affiliation, a deadpan comic flourish that somehow deepens rather than distracts from the story’s mournful undertow.

The trail of carnage is set in motion when a young man named Ingvar Dickman (Aron Eskeland) gets accidentally caught up in a gangland skirmish and winds up dead. The killing is chalked up to a heroin overdose, but Ingvar’s Swedish-born father, Nils (Skarsgård), knows his son better than that. And when his suspicions are unexpectedly confirmed by one of Ingvar’s friends, he proceeds to settle the score with the same patience, determination and sense of initiative that recently earned him his town’s “Citizen of the Year” award.

Persistence is key. There’s an awful lot of thuggish middlemen to bump off before Nils gets within firing range of “the Count” (Pal Sverre Hagen), a callow, petulant and very dangerous drug lord who ultimately bears responsibility for Ingvar’s death. For his part, Nils could scarcely be more different from his nemesis in either temperament or profession. By day he sits behind the wheel of an enormous snow plow, slowly clearing a path through the icy wilderness and offering a plain but unforced metaphor for his decision to clean house.

As it develops a welter of complications involving a Serbian gang (led by a splendid Bruno Ganz) whom the Count wrongly suspects of killing his men, “In Order of Disappearance” doesn’t overly concern itself with the moral implications of Nils’ campaign of vengeance. It has what you might call a supremely Nordic disdain for excessive hand-wringing. But neither does the picture bog down in gratuitous bloodletting. What little satisfaction Nils may derive from repeatedly punching a low-level henchman in the face, or using his plow to trap another on a lonely mountain road, dissipates long before the grisly finale. 

More and more of the killings seem to take place off-screen, sometimes signaled by little more than a quick cut to black; it’s as if the movie were resigning itself to the characters’ perfunctory regard for human life. The cynicism is rooted, to some extent, in the picture’s sly knowledge of its place in a well-worn B-movie tradition, which explains why some of the crooks here go by nicknames like Dirty Harry and Bullitt. (A fitting if less iconic addition would have been Paul Kersey, the vengeful anti-hero of “Death Wish.”)

Occasionally the script pauses for a few isolated jabs at the insular, prejudiced thinking that predominates in this northern backwater. The cast of characters includes a Japanese Danish assassin (David Sakurai) whom everyone calls “the Chinaman,” as well as two gay thugs who are forced to keep their tender romance under wraps. The film as a whole suggests a withering attack on heterosexual white male bluster; witness the sniggering thugs who mock Nils’ surname, Dickman, or the Count’s juvenile hostility toward his ex-wife (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen).

Just about the only figure here who’s worth a damn is Nils, and Skarsgård — in his latest of several collaborations with Moland (the others include “Zero Kelvin” and “A Somewhat Gentle Man”) — plays the part accordingly. The quiet dignity and soulfulness that radiates from his craggily handsome features is echoed by the film’s majestic snowbound imagery (courtesy of the cinematographer Philip Øgaard) and its gorgeously keening guitar-based score. But the beauty never feels distracting or devoid of purpose. Rooted though his vendetta may be in the deepest kind of personal tragedy, Nils ultimately has a job to do, and like the film he’s in, he does it with bracing professionalism and skill.

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‘In Order of Disappearance’

MPAA rating: R, for bloody violence, and language throughout

Running time: 1 hour, 54 minutes

Playing: Nuart Theatre, Los Angeles

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Source:   latimes

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