Stellan Skarsgård’s career has gone through many twists and turns. In recent years, he’s perhaps been most widely known for a supporting role in Marvel’s cinematic universe, and his collaborations with Danish director Lars von Trier. But his longest-running collaboration is with Norwegian filmmaker Hans Petter Moland, with whom he has collaborated for the fourth time on Kraftidioten, or, to give it its English title, In Order of Disappearance.
Skarsgård stars as Nils, a hardworking snowplough operator out in the frozen Norwegian countryside. We first see him driving his lumbering machine across the snow-covered vastness, and the cascading waterfalls of white that his operations produce will become a familiar and beautiful visual tick throughout the film. It isn’t long before Nils’ son turns up dead, apparently from a drugs overdose. Nils and his wife Gudrun (Hildegun Riise) drift apart, and while he turns to the path of violent retribution, she falls into silence and, later, absence.
The setup doesn’t last long, but it’s convincing and involving enough to invest us in what is to come. It starts to look like the film might turn into another of those well shot, stripped down thrillers in which a man of few words deals out vengeance, and it sort of does, but Moland takes an artistic risk by slipping into dark comic territory, and like Blue Ruin earlier in the year, mostly pulls it off.
The further Nils gets dragged into the workings of two rival gangs, the more blackly comic Moland allows his film to become. This has minor negative effects – as more gangsters are introduced, Nils begins to get lost in his own film, for example – but primarily positive ones, since the supporting cast are on good form, and are fun to spend time with. Indeed, by the end, the preening mob boss Greven (Pål Sverre Hagen) is almost as much the focus of Moland’s attention as Nils is.
It works because Nils and Greven work as opposites: the former taciturn and focused, the latter unhinged and erratic, and because there is enough interest and charisma in the gang members that Nils’ comparative absence isn’t felt too keenly.
The film isn’t afraid to dip into tougher territory when it needs to – there is a lot of face punching in this film – but it’s thankfully more concerned with the absurdity of the escalating cycle of violence than it is with the violence itself. It also nails the comic tone on quite a few occasions, summoning up some genuine laughs as well as the familiar ‘dark comedy smirk’. The ‘death cards’ that periodically appear on screen are a particularly nice touch. There are relatively few instances of the jarring shift of tone that some comic thrillers struggle with, meaning that by the time we’ve reached the ending, the film still has us under its spell. You could argue that the emotive hook and tension of the early scenes gets lost as the film lightens and expands – something I also found with Blue Ruin, as good as it was – but the tone is consistent enough that the enigmatic ending doesn’t jar.
The film is funny, stylish and involving. It’s lazy to call parts of the script ‘Tarantino-esque’ but I’m doing it anyway, and I mean that in a positive sense – it’s shar p. I’ve barely had time to mention how nice it looks, and how complementary the soundtrack is. Yes, it’s a little overlong and contrived, but a whole lot of fun at the same time.