Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 
Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable

REVIEW | A Hit Man's Second Chance: Skarsgård Excels in Deadpan Comedy "A Somewhat Gentle Man"

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Indiewire January 14, 2011 at 11:31AM

In the Norwegian black comedy "A Somewhat Gentle Man," Stellan Skarsgård bares everything and yet shows so little. With a distinctively muted demeanor, Skarsgård plays a semi-reformed hit man attempting to reassemble his life after spending several years behind bars. Mostly, he appears at the mercy of everyone around him: His ex-wife, his landlady, his current and former bosses. Cold-blooded killers rarely look this pathetic, which testifies to the impressive balance of Skarsgård's amusingly low-key performance.
1

In the Norwegian black comedy "A Somewhat Gentle Man," Stellan Skarsgård bares everything and yet shows so little. With a distinctively muted demeanor, Skarsgård plays a semi-reformed hit man attempting to reassemble his life after spending several years behind bars. Mostly, he appears at the mercy of everyone around him: His ex-wife, his landlady, his current and former bosses. Cold-blooded killers rarely look this pathetic, which testifies to the impressive balance of Skarsgård's amusingly low-key performance.

(Full disclosure: I was on the jury at Austin's Fantastic Fest last year, where we bestowed Skarsgård with an acting award. At this raucous genre-loving affair, the movie received a far different reception from its premiere at the Berlin Film Festival and many admittedly juvenile gags were made about the 51-year-old actor's willingness to display his junk onscreen. However, it's not Skarsgård's fleeting nudity that defines his role in "A Somewhat Gentle Man," but rather the air of disinterest that emanates from everything he does. He takes the opportunity to go deadpan and runs with it.)

As Ulrik, a professional killer whose family life is in shambles, Skarsgård hardly says a word and still makes his character imminently likable. Wandering his old stomping grounds after his release, he lets the people around him do the talking. Former employers show up and try to hire him to kill again. He drops by his estranged son's home and finds himself unwelcome. He lazily screws his ex-wife in the kitchen of her diner, then indulges the horny advances of his elderly landlord. Eventually, he settles into a routine gig as a mechanic, where his boss routinely unleashes lengthy monologues rife with inscrutable life advice. Discovering a battered woman among his co-workers, he sets out to save her from her abusive husband. Skarsgård's frozen expression allows an ironic sense of humor to creep into these scenes, even though his character's sadness appears unsalvageable.

Directed by frequent Skarsgård collaborator Hans Petter Moland ("Zero Kelvin"), "A Somewhat Gentle Man" eventually takes on the shape of an unlikely family drama: Ulrik persists in his attempts to win back his son's affections and develop a closeness with his pregnant daughter-in-law, even though the son refuses to tell her Ulrik's true identity and instead identifies him as an uncle. Moland neatly blends these alternately downbeat and heartwarming moments with comic eruptions of violence, resulting in an intriguing genre hybrid that suggests a less-upbeat "Grosse Point Blank."

However, Moland's constant restraint means that Ulrik's plight lacks much energy and the series of entertaining incidents that define his life rarely gain enough momentum to give the movie lasting appeal. In its quiet way, however, "A Somewhat Gentle Man" works as a tale of hesitant redemption. By the end, Ulrik has become a somewhat reformed man, but the final shot — a long take in which Ulrik and a friend gaze into the distance, looking at nothing in particular — implies that his future is eternally uncertain.

criticWIRE grade: B+

This article is related to: In Theaters, A Somewhat Gentle Man






Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome



Awards Season Spotlight

Contender Conversations

Indiewire celebrates the best and brightest from Independent film, Hollywood, and foreign cinema.

More