Friday 22 February 2019

From the archive: "In Order of Disappearance"

Though Hans Petter Moland’s In Order of Disappearance sails in on the back of the Scandinavian crime wave, it’s a little more blackly comic than the earnest police procedurals that have previously passed our way. For starters, we’re out in the deep snow of Norway, which – as fans of Fargo will be aware – always makes matters slightly surreal and slippery to read. And though its vengeful hero will be compared to Dirty Harry, the 1970s touchstone Moland’s film most resembles is Death Wish – albeit the kind of Death Wish only a truly liberal nation might arrive at: firmly tongue-in-cheek, altogether joshing in its attitude to race, and with an immigrant, no less, at the centre of the action.

Stellan Skarsgard, whose many years of working with Lars von Trier has left him constitutionally unable to resist a provocation, plays Nils Dickman, a Swedish snow plough driver feted in the remote town he now calls home for his tireless work in keeping the roads open. Shortly after receiving the Citizen of the Year award, Nils learns his son has been killed by a gang trafficking cocaine along those very same roads – and so sets out after those responsible, cleaning up the neighbourhood in a rather more extreme manner: several corpses will be deposited over a handy local waterfall.

Each victim’s demise will be marked by an onscreen headstone – hence the English-language title – yet at no point are we meant to take Nils’ quest seriously: as if the hero’s surname wasn’t a big enough clue, you might guess as much from the early mortuary scene in which a trolley holding the body of Nils’ son has to be raised by a pneumatic footpump – a process that goes on a beat or two too long to be in any way respectful.

Another corpse will be repatriated to Serbia in the back of a nondescript truck – going out the same way he perhaps came in – while the druglord turns out to be a cupcake-scoffing prat with a childish streak and an alarming facial resemblance to a young Jeremy Clarkson; his tackily appointed pied-a-terre looks very much like a send-up of the understated good taste displayed by most recent Scandinavian crime productions.

As with some of von Trier’s provocations, In Order of Disappearance can seem overstretched and thin. Most of its antagonists are fall guys invited on to say and do the most appalling things before being dispatched. (If Moland took their race-baiting seriously, the joke probably wouldn’t be funny.) Needless over-complication ensues with the arrival of Bruno Ganz’s rival firm of traffickers, and its subtler points about Norway’s relationship with its neighbours are buried amid the carnage, if not entirely lost in transit.

For all its larky, postmodern dressing-up, Moland’s film is really about no more than an angry middle-aged man in a gigantic snow plough going hell-for-leather after those who have irked him – and as the Simpsons episode “Mr. Plow” realised, that’s a premise that needs no frippery or sophistry to be perversely compelling.

(MovieMail, September 2014)

In Order of Disappearance is available on DVD through Metrodome, and to stream via Amazon Prime; an American remake, Cold Pursuit, opens in cinemas today, and will be reviewed here over the weekend.

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