A Somewhat Gentle Man
Directed by Hans Petter Moland
A comedy? About a hitman? A Somewhat Gentle Man dares to search for the lighter side of murder, though it's been found so often before. This umpteenth iteration of the killer-for-hire black comedy reteams Moland with Stellan Skarsgård, who was in the Norwegian director's Zero Kelvin and Aberdeen. Here, the tall Swedish phenom is Ulrik, a tired, ponytailed, sixtyish man fresh out of prison for a crime-of-passion murder rap. As he slumps over a coffee in his old pub, former crime boss Rune (Bjørn Floberg) and dim sidekick Rolf (Gard Eidsvold) lurch in to demand that Ulrik waste the snitch who got him pinched. Ulrik is initially acquiescing, in part because Rune finds him a place to live and a mechanic job.
Between investigative stakeouts and quickies with his ex-wife, the auto body secretary, and his haggish landlady, Ulrik is also trying to reconnect with his upwardly mobile son, Geir (Jan Gunnar Røise). There's a sweet scene in which the usually mirthless Ulrik is smiling uncontrollably as he sits in his car, simply watching Geir and his pregnant wife laughing together. Touched by his impending grandfatherhood, and braced by his daughter-in-law's refusal to have a murderer in their lives, Ulrik tells Rune he's going straight, news not happily received.
Does this trek over familiar territory justify its existence? Certainly not with the requisite droll debates (about semantics, mostly) between the three criminals, which you've heard already. The first sex scene with the homely landlady (Jorunn Kjellsby, recalling Throw Momma From the Train's Momma) has a fun shock value—while he's trying to eat she wriggles out of her granny-panties and lies expectantly on the bed—but it loses its comic kick after several repetitions, and it's so unsexy that it might turn you off the stuff. Her later unexpected jealousy ("Sluts have feelings too!") is affecting, however.
Skarsgård is excellent, accepting the surprising number of sexual advances that come his way with a humble, pushover shrug. The cold Nordic atmosphere is thick with Lappish thugs, homemade steamed cod dinners, and drab trips to the toy store (and like closest cousin In Bruges, there's a dwarf). A Somewhat Gentle Mancounterbalances the climate's chill with a not wholly unwelcome gift—the world-weary warmth of familiarity. Gratifying, if you have room in your life for another hitman comedy.
Opens January 14