Colorful rubes in gray Norway
By Stephanie Merry
Friday, March 4, 2011
Stellan Skarsgard's unconventional leading man, Ulrik, sure has a lot of luck with the ladies. Never mind that he's a recently paroled career criminal or that he sports a paunchy belly, grizzled features and a hairdo that boasts a bald pate plus a party of a ponytail in the back; women nonchalantly drop their panties all over town for the guy.
That's just one of the recurring jokes of "A Somewhat Gentle Man," the Norwegian film about a rube returning to society after 12 years in the slammer for shooting and killing the man who bedded his wife. The tongue-in-cheek quality of the title could be a metaphor for the movie itself, which feels like a long string of low-key quips that are both slightly dark and consistently amusing.
The plot is as subdued as the film's humor. In some ways, there isn't much going on in Hans Petter Moland's movie. Ulrik's moderately meaningless life consists mainly of working as a mechanic during the day and watching Polish game shows in a dingy basement at night. What's interesting is the cast of offbeat characters who infiltrate Ulrik's dull existence. There is his sexually aggressive, socially inept landlady, who provides dinner and a roll in the hay nightly; a son who would rather pretend he's fatherless than alarm his pregnant girlfriend; a motormouthed boss who spouts off philosophies about everything from relationships to business practices; and, most hilariously, Ulrik's old crime crew.
The aging godfather, Jensen, provides the most consistent laughs as a man desperate to prove he's still ruthless. He spends most of his days berating his minion, Rolf, for sitting in the wrong place, ordering the wrong beverage and buying the wrong housewarming present for Ulrik (although daisies are admittedly a bit girly for a gangster). Jensen also tasks Ulrik with offing the snitch responsible for the latter's 12 years behind bars.
Ulrik weighs the pros and cons of the job sporadically throughout the film, which is only noteworthy because he usually responds to those around him by nodding genially and repeating "okay" and "yes" like a mantra. For the most part, though, Ulrik might be described as an oafish dunce, or the less-interesting character normally found in a supporting role as the muscly henchman or the practically mute sidekick.
But that unexpectedness is part of what makes "A Somewhat Gentle Man" an entertaining curio. Just as the movie's gray color palette of a Scandinavian winter is set off by a jaunty score, the dopey brainless criminal at the center of this film can also be a real ladies man. And what's wrong with that? Everyone deserves his moment in the sun, even if it's under a cloudy Norwegian sky.
Contains violence, profanity and nudity. In Norwegian with English subtitles.