Scandinavian crime drama has had a recent discovery over here, in films, TV and books. There are shows like The Killing and The Bridge, books like those of Jo Nesbo, and many movies. The latest in this cycle is In Order of Disappearance, a very stylish piece of work from Norwegian director Hans Petter Moland, reuniting him with the star of his previous film, A Somewhat Gentle Man, Stellan Skarsgård. The result is a beautiful piece of work, with a very dry sense of humour, and incredible use of the Norwegian Landscape, and indeed Norway as a whole.
Nils (Skarsgård), a Swede living in Norway, lives a very simple life, ploughing the mountain roads in the winter, keeping the traffic moving. For this, he’s even been awarded Citizen of the Year. But then his son turns up dead, apparently the result of a drug overdose. But Nils knows his son was no addict. The police aren’t interested though, so he begins to search for vengeance himself. But his actions soon have huge consequences, not least for gangster ‘The Count’ (Pål Sverre Hagen)…
The film has a similar plot to a lot of revenge thrillers, but on the whole it plays like a criticism of the macho excess of them. This is a film where the thick-headed masculine attitudes of the genre are shown as leading to nothing but a non-stop cycle of death. The title refers to the fact that each time a character dies, their full name is displayed on screen, and in the final credits the actors are listed in that order. This helps to emphasise the fact that these are not faceless goons being killed off; they are all people, proper characters dying. This technique is so effective that in several cases we don’t actually see the characters die, but when that name appears on screen, it hits like a punch to the gut anyway.
The focus on characterisation helps this matter too, with everyone getting some good moments and depth, which for a film with a cast as big as this, is quite an achievement. In particular are the main characters. Nils is shown as being a man of very simple wants, going to horrific lengths just to get some justice for his son. However, he also shows real regret at what he’s been doing, and there’s a real personal cost for all of it, even before things spiral wildly out of control in the latter half. His main opponent, ‘The Count’ though is quite another matter. He likes to play at being the smart, suave, sophisticated, in control sort of villain, but he’s not, he’s one of the most repellent, hateful and hate-filled villains out there; driving an electric car and being vegan does not help that. There are also plenty of other strong characters in here too, emphasised by a strong vein of pitch-black humour, in some of the dialogue, and in the absurdity of more than a few situations. Of particular note might be the relationship between two of The Count’s henchmen, and also his main business rival, the Serbian ‘Papa’ (Bruno Ganz).
One of this film’s biggest strength’s though is that it’s just plain gorgeous to look at. Having the Norwegian landscape to work with definitely helps with that, with plenty of wonderful shots of characters and locations isolated in a sea of snow. There are some expertly set up moments, including several of some locations, often repeated well, with each use of them tending to mean something different given the circumstances. It’s also paced extremely well, starting slow, revealing it’s true colours just when you think it’s going to end up another Death Wish/Taken style vigilante movie, and building to an excellent climax. It should finally be said that this is a very Norwegian movie, with a lot of jokes and tangents based around the country’s economic status, such as one discussion between two henchmen about whether the welfare state and climate are connected. This is probably the main ‘your mileage may vary’ point with the film, but it’s still very amusing.
In Order of Disappearance is one of the year’s best darkly comic thrillers. Some might sum it up along the lines of ‘The Coen Brothers Scandinavian style’, but that would be doing a disservice to Moland, who definitely gives the film its own identity. It’s a strongly moral tale of the cycle of violence, how revenge always has consequences, and harms far more than one may ever intend. Plus it’s got plenty of very grim comedy to make these points easy to digest. Highly recommended to anyone who likes crime set in the lands of the Midnight Sun, or even those new to Eurocrime.