Monday June 02, 2014
Movie Review: Kraftidioten (In Order of Disappearance) (2014)
“I am just a guy who keeps a strip of civilization going through the wilderness,” says Nils Dickman (Stellan Skarsgård) as he accepts the “Citizen of the Year” award in his small mountain town in Norway.
So is he a cop? A lawyer? A doctor?
Nope. He drives a snowplow.
Turns out that snowplow just doesn’t keep civilization going but its opposite—or its nasty cousin—in the form of gangsters who take people for rides. And for much of Hans Petter Moland’s “Kraftidioten” (“In Order of Disappearance”), Nils, the town’s Citizen of the Year, gets revenge on those gangsters. Soon the snow is splattered with blood. It’s a comedy.
Not just an old-man revenge movie
“Fargo” is the inevitable comparison—white snow + blood + dark comedy—but there are elements of the Coens’ “Miller’s Crossing” as well: the mob bosses played for laughs. Plus Tarantino: gangsters in cars having quotidian conversations. Two Serbian gangsters talk up how nice Norwegian prisons are. No one rapes you, no one beats you, look I got my teeth fixed. Two of the Norwegian mobsters are gay and in love, while the cops in town, clueless, have their own conversations. Only Nils is on his own. He’s a silent, driving force: the snowplow personified.
Early on, his 20-something son dies of an overdose but Nils refuses to believe the cause of death. “Ingvar was no drug addict,” he says. He says it again and again. The cops dismiss him—all parents say that—while his wife sneers, with anger in her eyes, before leaving him. Distraught, alone, Nils decides to take the Hemingway out: shotgun to the mouth. But just then, Ingvar’s friend, Finn (Tobias Santelmann), crawls out of the corner of the garage with the news that, yes, Ingvar was no drug addict. He was an innocent victim. Cocaine comes through the local airport, and Finn didn’t think the local gangsters would miss a bag. Whoops. Finn’s connection was a guy named Jappe (Jan Gunnar Røise), who lives in the city, and who, when confronted by Nils, flashes the gun in his belt and tells him, “Go back to your hick village. Be nice and safe there.” For a second, Nils looks scared and out of his element, but only for a second. Then Nils decks him, pounds his face into the pavement, and, after extracting information about Nils’ boss (Ronaldo), uses Jappe’s own gun on him, after which we get, as we did with Ingvar, a title card: against a white background, the name (Jan Erik Peterson), the nickname (Jappe), years born and died, and the cross. We’ll see a lot more of these, with different religious symbols, before the movie ends.
As Finn leads to Jappe, Jappe leads to Ronaldo (Kåre Conradi), who leads to Strike (Kristofer Hivju), who refuses to name names. Dead end? No. Nils visits his estranged brother (Peter Andersson), who, in his mob days, was known as “Wingman.” After “Top Gun”? And he agrees to look into it.
If this were the story, even laced with occasional touches of dark humor, it would basically be another old-man revenge movie—Stellan Skarsgård’s version of “Gran Torino” or “Harry Brown.” But it’s at a higher level. It’s both lighter (i.e., funny) and darker (in its extended view of humanity). Those other movies take themselves so seriously. “Kraftidioten” has a beautiful, deadpan, absurdist streak to it.
Lost in translation
Leading the way is Greven (Pål Sverre Hagen, Thor Heyerdahl of “Kon-Tiki”), a second-generation Norwegian gang leader. He’s pompous, stupid, ineffectual and a vegan. He grows angry when his ex-wife (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) accuses him of feeding their child sugared cereal. There’s nothing quite like the Norwegian mouth trying to wrap itself around the words “Fruit Loops.”
It’s mostly a movie about mistaken identity, isn’t it? Everyone has nicknames and no one knows anyone. The gang grabs Ingvar for the wrong reasons, and they make his death seem like an overdose because they incorrectly assume, as Strike says, “If a Norwegian kid disappears, there’s always some obnoxious parent looking for them.” Greven forever calls the local Serbian gang “Albanians,” and assumes they are behind the disappearance of his men. Even family members don’t know each other. Nils’ wife thinks he won’t do anything about the death of their son, while Nils’ brother assumes the same:
Nils: I’m going to kill him.
Wingman: You? You couldn’t kill anyone.
So they hire a contract killer nicknamed the Chinaman, and we get this conversation:
Wingman: It must be cold here for a Chinese.
The Chinaman: I’m Danish.
Plus ethnically Japanese.
But the Chinaman betrays the Dickmans by telling Greven who was really behind the death of his men. Except Greven assumes it’s the other Dickman, and kills Wingman. Meanwhile, one of his gang states the obvious: “If it was Dickman who killed our people, then the Serbs must be pissed off about the guy we hung on the sign.” More than he knows: for the dead Serb was the son of mob boss Papa (Bruno Ganz, doing Vito Corleone), and now we’ve got a gang war amid ski resorts and hang-gliding.
Does the movie lose something in the final act? The coincidence of Nils grabbing Greven’s son just as the Serbian gang is about to? But the final shot, the final death, is perfect: less a grace moment than another graceless moment. The final nail in the haplessness of humanity.
“Kraftidioten” isn’t quite “Fargo” but it’s pretty close. And that’s high praise from a Lundegaard.