Reviewed at Fantastic Fest 2010.
Released from prison after serving 12 years for murder, Ulrik (Stellan Skarsgård) makes his own way into town. There’s no one to pick him up. Everyone he looks up from his old life swears they thought he was getting out the next day or next month. The only one happy to see him is Rune (Bjørn Floberg), his old boss from his tough guy days, who’s eager to have Ulrik pick up where he left off by killing the man who testified against him and put him in jail for murder — not for any profit, really, just to prove Rune’s not the type of fellow to be messed with.
“A Somewhat Gentle Man,” directed by Hans Petter Moland, is an incredibly agreeable gangster movie, in part because Ulrik’s not very interested in becoming a gangster again. Rune helps him get a day job as a mechanic at a shop run by the all-business Sven (Bjørn Sundquist), who speaks in abrupt, funny paragraphs. Rune also gets him a room at the house of his world-worn older sister Karen Margrethe (Jorunn Kjellsby), and then starts reminding Ulrik of how much he owes — though of course he can pay it back whenever, presuming he come back to work for Rune.
Wearing one of the world’s worst haircut — a straggly, graying ponytail, balding on top — Skarsgård portrays Ulrik as someone who’s so unsure about what comes next that he allows other people’s desires to guide him. He tails the snitch because Rune wants him to. He has what can only be described as slapstick sex with Karen Margrethe because she demands it. He helps his coworker Merete (Jannike Kruse) with her abusive ex, and he plays along with his son Geir’s (Jan Gunnar Røise) lie to his pregnant girlfriend that his father is dead — she wouldn’t want an ex-con as her child’s grandfather.
Ulrik demonstrates a flash or two of the scarier guy he used to be, but for the most part he’s hangdog and malleable, a generally gentle giant, qualities that end up drawing people in — there’s a recurring almost joke (it never quite has the momentum of a punchline) that women feel compelled to feed him and then offer him sex, both of which he impassively accepts, though sometimes it’s the food that’s more exciting to him.
“A Somewhat Gentle Man” is slight, but its deadpan humor grows on your, and Skarsgård’s performance is everything — when Ulrik starts to realize he might be able to put together something resembling a normal life after all, his joy is irresistible, like, as the film itself puts it, the first signs of spring after a long winter.
“A Somewhat Gentle Man” will be released by Strand.