Hans Petter Moland’s A Somewhat Gentle Man is like a Norwegian version of The Wrestler. Stellan Skarsgård plays Ulrik, a ponytailed gangster just out of jail after serving 12 years for murder. But you get the feeling he doesn’t want to leave, and it’s hard to blame him: Waiting for him outside the prison gates is an expanse of gray sky and snow, a crappy room that’s probably dingier than his cell, and pressure from his hotheaded and spiteful boss, Jensen (Bjørn Floberg), to kill the guy who ratted Ulrik out. He has a grown son, Geir, who tells people his father’s dead. And after a dozen years alone, Ulrik’s haggard landlady, Karen (Jorunn Kjellsby), doesn’t seem like such a bad prospect when one day she brings him his usual dinner, and then drops trou and spreads her legs.
Ulrik doesn’t really want to kill anyone anymore and would love a relationship with his kid, who’s now about to have his own child. So when Jensen lends him a car to stalk the rat, Ulrik instead uses it to spy on Geir (Jan Gunnar Røise), eventually making a cautious visit that’s generally well-received. Otherwise, Ulrik’s day-to-day consists of working as a mechanic, wondering why the secretary at his shop (Jannike Kruse) seems so damaged, listening to Jensen blather about settling scores, and watching Polish TV with Karen, at least until she decides it’s time to get it on.
With its casually handled subplots, A Somewhat Gentle Man is ultimately a character study of a rather quiet character. Skarsgård underplays his man of few words, but he’s captivating and charming nonetheless, particularly when he watches Geir and smiles ear to ear. (It’s in such moments that he most strongly resembles Mickey Rourke’s Randy the Ram.) There’s humor throughout, which is typically very gentle but sometimes laugh-out-loud: Ulrik is told he isn’t allowed to smoke whenever he lights up. When he gets into Jensen’s car to finally tail his snitch, it won’t start. Then there’s his trysts with Karen, lightning-quick encounters in which she yells her bloody head off as he thrusts dutifully.
The concern of the film, like The Wrestler, is redemption, finding a new purpose in life, making a fresh start. As Ulrik tentatively, and then confidently, moves toward these goals, you’ll find yourself engrossed—not just somewhat but completely.
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