Film

Stellan Skarsgard, Murderer on Parole, in A Somewhat Gentle Man

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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.