Pretty much every review you’ll read of Hans Petter Moland’s In Order Of Disappearance will make lazy mention of one film – Joel and Ethan Coen’s Fargo. Which is something of a shame as, while both are blackly funny, all they really share is a lot of snow and a willingness to generously splash the claret across the Arctic wilderness, In Order Of Disappearance less a dark, offbeat comedy of capricious fate like Fargo and more a droll Nordic spin on rabid revenge thrillers like Death Sentence with a liberal splash of Kurosawa’s Hammett-inspired Yojimbo. If Yojimbo’s role was essayed by Homer Simpson in his Mr Plow guise.

When his son is brutally murdered by some big city gangsters, hangdog snowploughman (is that a word? Probably not…) Nils Dickman (Stellan SkarsgÃ¥rd), the reluctant Citizen Of The Year of his small Norwegian town, sets out for revenge, beating, strangling and shooting the henchman of the local Mr Big, dumping their corpses in a waterfall, all the time working his way closer to their boss, the Count (PÃ¥l Sverre Hagan). A paranoid health freak who juices carrots for his men and serves takeaway lattes during torture sessions, the Count jumps to the wrong conclusion and assumes the blame for his men’s disappearances lies with his deadly rival, Serbian Mafia Godfather Papa (Bruno Ganz), sparking a brutal gang war of tit-for-tat murders when he orders the torture and execution of Papa’s youngest son. With the bodies starting to pile up, events spiral out of control when Nils kidnaps the Count’s young son, leading to a final blood-splattered confrontation in the snow…

“Have you ever heard of the Stockholm Syndrome?” asks the Count’s young son as he snuggles innocently in his genial kidnapper’s fatherly embrace, requesting a bedtime story of Nils who ends up reading the boy a snowplough catalogue after the boy tells him it doesn’t matter what he reads but that it’s the way he reads it that’s important. It’s just one of many quiet, disarming moments in Moland’s pitch black thriller which is spiritually much closer to the anarchic spirit of Jo Nesbo’s Headhunters and Jackpot rather than the more downbeat Nordic Noir we’re used to, honest both in its humanity and its brutality.

Serbian hitmen frolic in the snow with a joy that recalls the vacationing gangsters of Takeshi Kitano’s Sonatine. Killers discuss the relative comforts offered by the Norwegian penal system (decent grub, dental care, no rape…) and the merits of scooping dog poop. A kidnapper takes his hostage for a ride in his snowplough. Two macho Norwegian gangsters steal a quiet moment for a romantic tryst, necking in a car like teenagers. A local right-wing, anti-immigration politico urges Nils to run for office as the Swede is an example of the kind of immigrant Norway needs (ie: white). The film’s casually sarcastic humour lulls the audience until the sudden, staccato explosions of violence as Nils, like the Man With No Name In A Parka, relentlessly wipes out his son’s killers, each murder punctuated by a Mass card-style black title card, the victim’s name and a symbol denoting their religion rendered in white (one climactic title card straining to contain all of those killed in a gunfight), a device that starts life as a running sight gag but ends up lending each death a solemnity that undercuts the guilty pleasures of the film’s humour and ultraviolence, the spiral of tit-for-tat murder reminiscent almost of the casual cycle of brutality evident in Alan Clarke’s Elephant.

Ably supported by Hagen’s twitchy, neurotic dandy and Ganz’s practically mute Godfather, Skarsgard delivers a near-mythic performance, his shambling avenging angel both relatable everyman and indestructible Terminator while Moland and cinematographer Phillip Ogaard capture the harsh beauty of the frozen landscape, Nils’ snowplough almost a character in its own right as it blows great plumes of snow like a sounding whale.

Tight, taut, smart and bitterly funny, In Order Of Disappearance is a slick, pant-wettingly dark comedy thriller that doesn’t disappoint.

VERDICT: Four stars

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