Editor’s Note: In Order of Disappearance opens in limited theatrical release today, August 26, 2016.
It’s taken over two years for In Order of Disappearance, the satirical revenge thriller from Norwegian director Hans Petter Moland, to finally get its American theatrical release, but it has been well worth the wait. In Order of Disappearance stars Stellan Skarsgård as Nils Dickman, a mild-mannered snowplow driver whose world is shaken when his son Ingvar is found dead. Dismissed as a drug overdose, Nils is sure that Ingvar was murdered, but his refusal to believe the official story puts a wedge between him and his wife Gudrun (Hildegun Riise). Impossibly, Nils’ assumption turns out to be true, and fresh off his win as the town’s Citizen of the Year — a local praises him as a successful, fully-integrated immigrant, hastening to add that he means this “in a good way” — Nils sets out to the big city to kill the drug dealer responsible for Ingvar’s death.
In Order of Disappearance (original title Kraftidioten, literally translated as “The Prize Idiot”) skillfully manages to skewer the testosterone-filled actioner tropes we all know and love, but without condemning the audience for its thirst for violence.
Soon Nils has racked up one hell of a body count on his way to the head of the Norwegian mafia, a man known as The Count (Pål Sverre Hagen), who is as sleek and useless as a Venture Bros. villain. The Count, having no idea about Nils, blames the Serbian mafia for the carnage, angering their boss (a terrific Bruno Ganz), and an all-out turf war ensues.
In Order of Disappearance is a cold and bleak world inhabited almost entirely by men, or more specifically, by fathers and sons. The few women who wander this world are unwilling to hide their contempt for the outrageous, Old Testament-style violence fetishized by the men, some of whom pretend, even to themselves, that these grotesque assertions of manhood are for the women in their lives. They aren’t. In Order of Disappearance (original title Kraftidioten, literally translated as “The Prize Idiot”) skillfully manages to skewer the testosterone-filled actioner tropes we all know and love, but without condemning the audience for its thirst for violence.
Stellan Skarsgård gives a fine, nuanced performance as Nils Dickman. He will remind you of Liam Neeson’s Bryan Mills in the Taken series, and Neeson has, of course, reportedly signed on for the American remake of this film, because Hollywood is nothing if not circular and obvious. As fine an actor as Neeson is, Skarsgård brings something to this film that few, if any, other actors working today can: believability. His Nils is a regular Joe without the ersatz superhero powers usually bestowed on B-movie antiheros, but also without being weak or a loser. He’s a Dickman in a world of Strikes and Counts and Bullitts — “he’s not so lucky with the name, poor guy,” muses a henchman — and that doesn’t bother him at all.
Beyond the tongue-in-cheek styling, the icy beauty of the landscape and the copious film references, there isn’t much meat on this movie’s bones.
Modern films tend toward cinematic collage; it’s been that way for a long time, so long that films are now judged not by whether they borrow from earlier films, but by how well they borrow (or quote or steal or just full-on rip off) from other films. In Order of Disappearance is successful in that it makes large, overt references to classic revenge actioners of the last few decades, from Fargo to Duel to Point Blank, rather than trying to position itself as subtle homage.
Yet beyond the tongue-in-cheek styling, the icy beauty of the landscape and the copious film references, there isn’t much meat on this movie’s bones. For In Order of Disappearance, death is a grim but solemn joke, but after a while it regards death with the same shrugging acceptance that the men it holds up to ridicule do. It’s gorgeous, entertaining, well acted and fun, but without the kind of emotional substance that could have turned it from a good movie into a great movie.
In Order of Disappearance, the darkly comedic Norwegian thriller, is gorgeous, entertaining, well acted and fun, but without the kind of emotional substance that could have turned it from a good movie into a great movie.