The label “Nordic Noir” has become something of a seal of approval when it comes to crime films. From the Wallander series starring Krister Henriksson to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy to the recent Department Q films (The Keeper of Lost Causes, The Absent One, A Conspiracy of Faith), the exploits of cops and criminals that might seem commonplace in a U.S. setting become downright engrossing when characters are surrounded by gorgeous countryside and immersed in a foreign culture. In Order of Disappearance, the new film from director Hans Petter Moland (When Bubbles Burst, A Somewhat Gentle Man), serves to further the reliable reputation of this “brand”. It’s a solid crime film that benefits from the small, personal scale of its story.
Nils Dickman (Stellan Skarsgard) looks out of place in a suit. With his tie askew and his awkward body language, there’s no mistaking that Nils makes his living off the land of his native Norway and not in the offices of a big city. However, in the first fifteen minutes of the film, we see Nils in his Sunday best for two decidedly different events. One evening he is accepting the Man of the Year award for his small community where he plows the roads with his high-tech, commercial equipment. A few days later, he’s attending his son’s funeral.
One event fills him with a quiet civic pride; the other drains the life from him and leaves him with an unquenchable thirst for the truth behind his son’s death. The authorities write the incident off as an overdose, but Nils knows his son had no substance abuse problems. When he learns that his son inadvertently ran afoul of a local organized crime boss, Nils decides it’s time to get some answers by any means necessary.
In Order of Disappearance is a study in contrasts. Breathtaking scenery can quickly become marred by the aftermath of brutal violence. The action ping-pongs between the quiet, idyllic winter countryside to the concrete and chrome of big city organized crime. Just as enormous drifts of snow are being plowed by Nils, cascading through the air as he blazes a trail for his fellow citizens, Nils begins to cut a path through the ranks of Norwegian gangsters as he pursues his vengeance.
In an entertainment world filled with crime procedurals, originality is the ultimate brass ring, and this film delivers unexpected twists on familiar tropes. From the crime kingpin tormented by his ex-wife and the bewildered Serbian mobster caught in the crossfire to the local cops who remain two steps behind Nils at all times, In Order of Disappearance is populated with interesting characters who aren’t typical crime film clichés. Think Death Wish with a sense of humor and the beautiful cinematography of a nature documentary.
The brilliance of this film is in its wry observation of the smallest details. When Nils decides his son’s death is too much for him to bear, he places the barrel of a rifle in his mouth. When he reconsiders, he finds his lips are stuck to the freezing gunmetal. This streak of black humor runs through the entire film. In Order of Disappearance swings from suspense to laughter at a moment’s notice, but never takes a tonal misstep. It’s an impressive cinematic high-wire act and one that’s worth your time.
In Order of Disappearance hits select theaters, On Demand, iTunes and Amazon Video on Friday, August 26, 2016.
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.