A low-life comedy in registers of Norse pallor and reticence, A Somewhat Gentle Man begins with ex-thug Ulrik (Stellan Skarsgard) paroled from a 12-year sentence for murder. Returning to the seedy milieu he left behind, on the outskirts of an unnamed city, Ulrik is a watchful, shy presence in every scene that follows. Jensen (Bjørn Floberg), a potbellied mug in an orange-sherbet shirt given to pining for better days, his kingpin reputation as threadbare as the upholstery on his Beemer, demands Ulrik settle old scores with a snitch. Ulrik, meanwhile, is passively content to drift between the women, in various stages of ruin, who feed and fuck him—distractedly humping with a mouthful is a running joke, run straight into the ground—before developing a more tender courtship with a co-worker at his garage. Late-blooming humanity struggles against a soiled-snow suburban-industrial background, peopled with caricatures: the owlish boss who exhales sudden monologues in one long breath, the Lappish arms dealer/aspiring restaurateur with dwarf sidekick. The grungy setting and unflattering photography are only camouflage for callow, creeping sentimentality. Skarsgard’s inherently decent ex-thug, who gets the occasion to lecture to a wife-beater, is a hedged bet for audience sympathy, behavioral observation stops at quirk, and director Hans Petter Moland repeatedly cracks the film’s deadpan with an indulgent snigger at the unpleasantness of the proceedings.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 12, 2011