A surprisingly enjoyable action flick, In Order of Disappearance unites Fargoesque elements with Dirty Harry street justice, piling up bodies faster than snow off a road plow. Hans Petter Moland’s gritty thriller draws on an everyman protagonist to work his way up the crime tree of dirt-bag criminals and sequentially dispense justice with Old Testament ferocity.
After some bottom-of-food chain bad guys rig the death of his son, Ingvar, to look like an overdose, mild mannered Nils Dickman (Stellan Skarsgard) initially takes the blame and nearly offs himself with a rifle. But most viewers know better than to expect a protagonist to die so quickly, which is why it’s no surprise when we learn that Ingvar was murdered. And why the ostensibly docile Nils embarks on “digging two graves” for his son’s murder, uprooting the heretofore-cerebral crime paradigm of Scandinavian cinema. Among the mob soldiers Nils dispenses (with the help of his huge snowplow) is the likeable Strike (Game of Thrones Kristofer Hivju). It’s a bit more than a cameo, and there’s a good-guy-bad-guy camaraderie moment that gives the scene a bit of moral balance.
Nils clearing the Norwegian backwater with a giant yellow snowplow becomes an arresting metaphor for his life, removing obstructions in a physically cold, cruel world. And what better obstruction to remove than a crime family bent on expansion? With tongue-in-cheek tombstone solemnity, Nils’ enemies are dispatched and recorded on black screen—a nice, subtle comedic touch. During a visit to Nils’ estranged brother, Egil (Peter Andersson)—his former “wingman”—we learn that in his misspent youth, Nils picked up a few street survival “talents.” It’s a History of Violence moment that underscores Nils’ ability to dispatch goons with such lean efficiency.
Nils’ nemesis is a young ponytailed crime boss known simply as “the Count” (Pal Sverre Hagen). The second-generation mobster inherited the business from papa, but his hot temper and impatience eventually cause him to underestimate Nils. The Count seems to have his hands full in areas that extend beyond running the family business. A B-story that underscores his “husband/father of the year” persona is the Count’s ongoing fight with his ex-wife (Birgitte Hjort Sorensen) over custody of their son.
Square pegged into crime boss status, the Count is repeatedly outwitted by Nils’ blue-collar tactics. Outmatched by a rival gang of Serbians, he unwittingly responds to “an insult” with the wrong “message.” Doing an admirable job as the Serbian’s avuncular capo di tutt’i capi is “Papa” (Bruno Ganz), a likeable sort and heavy counter weight to the impulsive Count. The final, shell-casing-littered standoff dovetails the Good, the Bad and the Ugly and is as satisfying as a gulp of ice-cold soda after a bucket of salty popcorn.