Swift, fleet-of-foot, and efficient, with clean lines and a sleek finish, the Norwegian black comedy In Order of Disappearance glides through the world like a perfectly engineered car or a gorgeous piece of modern furniture.
Set in the sparse, blindingly white snowfields of the Scandinavian winter, Hans Petter Moland's violent, satirical crime thriller is assembled with such formal rigor and visual poetry that it throws into high relief the messy, sweaty, almost repulsively human drama that unspools.
The film's knockout power is due in no small part to the contributions of cinematographer Philip Øgaard and leading man Stellan Skarsgård, who have worked with the writer-director on two of his best-known features, A Somewhat Gentle Man (2010) and Aberdeen (2000).
Though he's backed by a strong ensemble cast that includes Peter Andersson (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Danish star Birgitte Hjort Sørensen (Borgen), and German-film star Bruno Ganz (The American Friend), Skarsgård dominates the screen with his 6-foot, 4-inch frame, his outsize rage and grief, and the gigantic snowplow truck he drives.
Skarsgård plays Nils, a successful small-town businessman. His world comes crashing down when his twentysomething son turns up dead in Oslo of a drug overdose. Convinced the boy wasn't a drug user, Nils digs deeper, only to find that the young man was murdered on orders from a local thug acting on behalf of Oslo's new drug kingpin, the Count (Pål Sverre Hagen), a spoiled rich kid who is heir to a chain of bakeries.
Uncovering this bit of information involves capturing, torturing, and killing a chain of bad guys, each higher up on the mobster totem pole than the last.
The killings are gruesome, often absurd events, but Moland's camera doesn't fetishize violence by lingering on the gore and the blood. Nils carefully rolls up each body in chicken wire and throws it off a cliff into a massive waterfall. (Chicken wire? It's so the little fish can feast more efficiently on the body than they might with a corpse wrapped in plastic.)
Like the Coen brothers' best flicks, In Order of Disappearance gets its gruesomely comic momentum from a domino effect of unintended consequences put into motion by the hero's actions.
The violent whirlwind Nils unleashes sucks in a colorful cast of characters, including a retired mobster known as Wingman (Andersson), a Japanese Danish hit man familiar to clients as the Chinaman (David Sakurai), and, eventually, Scandinavia's top Serbian drug lord, known to all as Papa (Ganz).
Operatic, absurdist, and scathing, Moland's story rages on with tremendous force and speed, never slowing down for extraneous junk like backstories, explanations, or tiresome exposition.
In Order of Disappearance will no doubt invite comparisons to similarly stylized, violent black comedies by Quentin Tarantino and the Coens.
Yet, like 2011's murder farce Headhunters by Moland's Norwegian compatriot Morten Tyldum, In Order of Disappearance has an utterly unique feel, a certain Scandinavian crispness that's impossible to duplicate.
In Order of Disappearance
***1/2 (Out of four stars)