Wednesday, February 22, 2017

IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE (Kraftidioten, 2014)

American movie fans nowadays will most likely recognize Stellan Skarsgaard as dear, dotty old Dr. Selvig from the Thor and Avengers movies. Closer to home, apparently, the 65 year old actor is a Scandinavian Liam Neeson, at least for this one film by his frequent collaborator, Hans Petter Moland. He'd have some credibility with home audiences in such a role, as he'd played the "Swedish James Bond" Carl Hamilton in a couple of movies back in the Nineties, among other heroic parts. But unlike the typical Neeson character in his post-Taken vehicles, or even Michael Caine's Harry Brown, Skarsgaard's aged vigilante in Kraftidioten -- that Google Translates from Norwegian to "Power Idiot," though I like the translated from Swedish option, "Power Jerk," better --  doesn't seem to have a background that would give him the very special skills required to wage a one-man war on crime. Instead, he's the Swedish snowplow driver and Man of the Year of a snowy Norwegian town whose son ends up as collateral damage during a bit of gangster discipline. The kid was left propped up on a park bench to look as if he'd overdosed, but Nils Dickmann knows that his boy wouldn't do drugs, and so deduces that he was murdered. When the boy's buddy, the gangsters' intended victim, tells him the true story, Nils goes on the warpath.

Since Kraftidioten is described as a black comedy, we probably shouldn't ask how Nils manages to get the jump on supposedly badass gangsters so often. We are, after all, dealing with idiots led by "The Count" (Pal Sverre Hagen), whose most formidable antagonist seems to be his ex-wife until a mystery man starts bumping off his flunkies. He counts as a "Count," presumably, because he's tall, thin and evil-looking, somewhere between a John Carradine Count and a Christopher Lee type. Understandably not suspecting a civilian vigilante, the Count convinces himself that the local Serbian mob (he keeps confusing them with Albanians) must be trying to muscle in on his territory, despite their agreement to share the local airport. Nils thus inadvertently starts a gang war.

Ironically, once Nils tries to think like a gangster, he begins to screw up. Realizing that he's unlikely to reach the top man in the organization, he goes to his brother, a onetime minor mobster nicknamed "Wingman," for advice on hiring a hitman. Once Nils pays him in full up front (Wingman advised only half), the hitman takes him for an easy mark and sells him out to the Count, only to be killed for offending the mob leader's sense of honor. Unfortunately, the hitman only knew his employer as "Dickmann," and the only person of that name the Count knows is Wingman. In short order, Nils has more to avenge, while the Serbs (led by the Swiss actor Bruno Ganz) go to war to avenge their own, wrongly blamed for Nils' rampage.This escalating conflict actually gives Nils some breathing space. He and the Serbs have the same idea of kidnapping the Count's son, but when a round of negotiation stalls the Serbs staking out the boy's school, Nils has an opening to snatch him. Conveniently also, once the Count finally figures out who's been plaguing him, he can't take proper revenge on Nils, or get his boy back, before the Serbs come charging in for a final bloody showdown....

Film directors love to stage violence in wintry landscapes, for they make the ideal ironically immaculate backdrop for the darkest dirtiest deeds. Kraftidioten will certainly remind American viewers of Fargo, but there are plenty of Japanese films, Sergio Corbucci's Great Silence, Tarantino's Hateful Eight and no doubt some Scandinavian movies that do the same things. Moland has an ace collaborator in Philip Ogaard, who really makes the most of the Norwegian locations. Together, director and cinematographer make Kraftidioten a constantly picturesque film with plenty of screencap opportunities. The way their picture really reminded me of a Japanese movie was the way they recorded characters' deaths, with an obituary title card for each victim and a rather crowded one after the final shootout. This gimmick, which presumably inspired the film's English-language title, put me in mind of Kinji Fukasaku's Battles Without Honor and Humanity, but for Moland the effect is meant to be more comically distancing than appalling. It's really not that comic a film, however, unless you agree that violence is innately funny. One of its comic climaxes comes when the stressed-out Count finally lashes out and KOs his ex with one punch. That may strike some people as politically incorrect, but I think the joke is that he knows no other way to deal with her, not that she's a bitch who got what was coming to her. However, I can't really make an excuse for the joke that ends the film, a poorly executed payoff to a gag that had been started and presumably forgotten a long time before. It just looked like a desperate attempt to end the film on a jokey grimdark note and put one more obit card on the screen. Overall, though, Kraftidioten is pretty entertaining, always fine to look at and sometimes genuinely funny as far as black crime comedies go, even as Skarsgaard plays his avenger utterly straight like a killer Keaton. Don't take it too seriously and you may well enjoy it.

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