The Global Peace Index suggests that Scandinavia is the most pleasant region in the world.
Scandinavian cinema tells us just the opposite: that our friends in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark are at constant war with drug kingpins and other ruthless criminal elements. (Let’s not even get started on black metal.) Doubtless such underbellies exist, but one has to imagine they’re overrepresented by movies like In Order of Disappearance.
Also overrepresented: the frequency with which bereaved parents avenge their deceased children by murdering anyone and everyone tangentially involved. In Norwegian director Hans Petter Moland’s seriocomic crime picture, whose clever English title is a marked improvement over the original Kraftidioten (“power idiot”), a twentysomething’s violent passing at the hands of mobsters is made to look like an overdose.
This instantly sets off alarm bells for his father (Stellan Skarsgård). He knows his son to have been drug-free. “What do you intend to do?” he asks a police officer after identifying his son’s body. The cop’s answer, in so many words, is nothing. So our hero does what any good movie dad would do and, shortly after receiving a Citizen of the Year award for his long tenure as a civil servant, sets out on a bloody quest for revenge.
They say that parents, in times of great stress, can perform feats of superhuman strength — we’ve all heard of the mothers who lift cars to rescue their children from danger. In a similar vein, grief can apparently instill moms and dads with the know-how to track down and kill two-bit bad guys without leaving a trace of evidence. Nils Dickman (Skarsgård) doesn’t need the particular set of skills that Liam Neeson had in Taken; being a pissed-off dad is qualification enough.
At this point you may be thinking that you’ve seen this movie before — maybe not set in Norway, maybe not with Skarsgård as the lead, but certainly the basic outline. You wouldn’t be wrong, but both actor and director have enough fun with the well-worn setup that you might have fun too. Moland previously directed Skarsgård in A Somewhat Gentle Man, another crime drama with a low temperature and high body count; here he even throws in a wintry, roadside murder straight out of Fargo for good measure.
Moland stops short of instilling any of this with real weight, though. Nils never takes a moment to consider the gravity of this situation, and it doesn’t take much nitpicking to wonder how and why he instantly becomes a ruthless killing machine. (His day job involves snowplowing remote roads.) If Nils is shocked by either his capacity for such violence or even the sight of so much blood as he offs one low-level criminal at a time, we don’t see it. He has nothing to reckon with morally, and so neither do we.
The head of the totem pole Nils is trying to decapitate mistakes Nils’ actions for those of a rival gang — the Serbs, perhaps, or more likely the Albanians. Moland announces each victim with an onscreen title card, all of them marked by their name and a small cross. They’re killed off in ascending order of importance, but the film never feels like it’s building to anything equally significant. The ending is preordained by the premise.
In Order of Disappearance
Directed by Hans Petter Moland
Opens Friday, Lagoon Cinema