In A Somewhat Gentle Man, a deadpan comedy best described as the Coen Brothers Norwegian style, Stellan Skarsgard is colorless and oddly configured, like a potato fallen from the sack. As Ulrik, a convict released from prison after serving 12 years for murder, the Swedish actor best known to American audiences as the mathprofessor in Good Will Hunting watches the steel prison gates roll open. He looks out at the frozen landscape. He hesitates. By contrast to this wintry Norwegian wood, prison seems — cozy.
In the mordant film about the ex-con’s return to Oslo and his apparent rehabilitation, Skarsgard carries Ulrik’s menace like a pocket handkerchief. It’s something he travels with but uses only rarely. As hired guns go, he’s an unusually passive guy. He says practically nothing for the film’s first half. Only an actor of Skarsgard’s resources could do so little and make such a big impression.
Ulrik is estranged from his wife and grown son, who disapprove of murder. His remaining “family” is Jensen (Bjorn Floberg), the expansive mob boss for whom he has worked as a hit man. Jensen connects Ulrik with work (as a garage mechanic) and lodging in the basement of an unsmiling landlady (Jorunn Kjellsby), who grows unusually fond of her quiet tenant.
The film from Hans Petter Molander, a frequent Skarsgard collaborator, tickles laughs from Ulrik’s low-key responses to high-key situations. As the title says, Ulrik is a gentle man, one who resorts to violence when punishment is deserved.
The comedy, such as it is, emerges from the contrast between Ulrik and his immediate context. The tougher the situation, the more tenderness he exhibits. The less emotion he shows, the more women want him. The less Ulrik does, the more things happen. Like its star, Molander’s film walks the line between funny ha-ha and funny awkward.
Cast: Stellan Skarsgard, Bjorn Floberg, Jorunn Kjellsby.
Director: Hans Petter Moland.
Screenwriter: Kim Fupz Aakeson.
Producers: Finn Gjerdrum, Stein B. Kvae.
A Strand Releasing release. Running time: 103 minutes. In Norwegian with English subtitles. Playing in Miami-Dade only: O Cinema