IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE Review
Director: Hans Petter Moland
Genre: Drama, Action
Editor’s note: While IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE actually got its release in 2014, it’s only crossed the ocean this month for a 2016 release in the United States.
In the wild, wintery mountains of Norway, an elderly citizen-of-the-month turns into a savage killer in his quest to seek revenge for his son’s murder. With IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE, director Hans Petter Moland has crafted a dark comedy about loss and vengeance, framed around the blood-soaked, snow-capped mountains of Scandinavia. But where Moland’s film really stands out is in ideological practice: IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE is a film about cultural reversals.
From the get-go, Moland makes it absolutely clear what he sets out to do with his caper. Comedy is — as is often the case with Scandinavian films — loaded with dry wit and expressionless glances, and characters subvert expectations through behavior and design. Stellan Skarsgård’s performance as a revenge-seeking father is understated but brilliantly empathetic. His crumbling marriage and vicious behavior following his son’s death are only understood because we seek to see this Norwegian landscape turned into an American west, the snow turned into sand, and the law left to one man.
Color it yellow and you’ve got yourself THE WILD BUNCH
And that is where Moland truly excels. IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE is a film about cultural identity. In a country where the highest criminal punishment is 26 years of prison in a comfortable facility, Stellan Skarsgård represents a figurative American enacting vigilante justice. Mobsters leisurely speak about the comfortable prison system, blissfully ignorant that death is right behind them, but this time it’s not a rider on horseback, but a pale driver in a snow plow.
At its core, this is a mafia revenge film. But Moland willfully refuses to ape the tropes of Hollywood. Gangsters aren’t hard-boiled criminals with a knack for tacky furniture. Norwegian mobsters are metrosexual businessmen of refined taste, living in sleek modernist homes. Their Serbian enemies hearken back to a more traditional rendering: violent and vengeful, similar to Cronenberg’s interpretation in EASTERN PROMISES. With this mob conflict comes an ideological bridge connecting the one-man army of Skarsgård with the eye-for-an-eye desires of the Serbian mafia.
But what becomes undeniably apparent is that IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE is a busy film. There are countless variables here: Skarsgård’s crumbling marriage, two crime syndicates duking it out, the Norwegian crime lords’ custody battle, and the list goes on. The problem is that Moland never executes any one facet to full effect. This film is full of phenomenal ideas, and its final segment holds potential for an incredibly touching confrontation between two mourning fathers, but instead Moland favors action over profundity.
As its title suggests, Skarsgård works his way up the chain of command, steadily executing criminals until he finds his way to the man in charge. Unfortunately, Moland gets sidetracked with his dense, Serbian subplot. While nothing in the narrative ever had me losing interest, one becomes painfully aware that IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE readily loses steam as it veers further from Skarsgård’s personal journey. His marriage is sidelined to make room for more narrative developments, and our understanding of his quest for retribution is oddly opaque by the time the credits roll.
“I used to be in GAME OF THRONES and now I’m being beaten senseless by an old man”
While its discussions on ideological clashes between Eastern and Western Europe certainly make for fascinating commentary, it upsets me that a Norwegian film wouldn’t make it a point to ardently condemn the vigilante justice enacted by Skarsgård. Norway is a country that can be proud of its judicial system, and while the conceit of a Scandinavian western is certainly fascinating, it feels like a missed opportunity not to chastise the eye-for-an-eye mentality that permeates this film.
IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE introduces itself as a Scandinavian FARGO hybrid, and while I’m more than welcoming of such an endeavor, it lacks the heart to draw me in. Sure, its comedy is deserving of credit, but Moland ought to have replaced some of his jokes with more emotionally engaging decisions. The fact that the two mob bosses and Skarsgård all share a common trait as fathers and yet never get to speak about it feels like an unforgivably missed opportunity. This is doubly upsetting when considering how successful its thematic backbone is.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend