A Somewhat Gentle Man ★★★★

The World Is More Than Enough 3: You Haven't Seen That Yet?!

9/30 - Norway

Third time lucky for A Somewhat Gentle Man. Or for me?

I had this film scheduled as my Norwegian leg of my 30 Countries tour the last two years only to have to move it on both occasions - last year because I just ran out of time to do feature length films and the previous year because I couldn't get hold of it. I nearly bumped it again this year when Hawaii, Oslo became available on Mubi but I didn't think it would be nice of me to stand this film up again. I don't want to get a reputation for not putting out.

A Somewhat Gentle Man starts with a wonderful, touching and funny scene where Stellan Skarsgård is released from prison, reluctantly. A prison guard seems sorry to see him go and tries to assure him that everything will be ok. I think this scene works because it's not one of those scenes where a prisoner is released because he doesn't want to be. Skarsgård wants to be - he just doesn't know what to do next.

From then on the film is all set for something really quite splendid. Once Skarsgård witnesses his two 'gang' mates put a woman in a dumpster (alive) for bumping into their car, you are all set for whatever this film can offer you. Nobody here is quite what you expect of them though - the unpredictability of that early scene might seem overly silly compared to everything else in the film but it sends you notice to be on your toes with this one.

Nobody seems too perturbed by Skarsgård's previous crime, nor all that impressed by it. They just seem weary of having to put up with him and make room for him, even though he's grateful and personable. It's that personable nature and him living up to the splendidly clever title (he is somewhat gentle - except for two scenes) that wins a few people round but he almost becomes too personable for his own good.

What I loved most about his character is the way that he quite clearly has been changed and that he really does just want to get along with everyone. He can't say no to the regular sex that's thrown at him, which lands him in some rather sad trouble later on, and on most occasions he even refuses to stick up for himself or explain that he's a different person now. He's trying to do the right thing and please everyone - but it just seems to land him back at square one. He ends up going back to his 'friends' because he's got nowhere else to go. His kindness has landed him back there.

It's a splendid quandary that director Hans Petter Moland draws up for him and it's altogether believable. I've talked a lot recently, mostly on reviews of Denis Villeneuve films about how films can use violence in an almost quiet and contemplative way. A Somewhat Gentle Man goes for that first element as well. There are only two acts of violence in this film and the first one is perhaps the most gentle nose and arm breaking you'll ever see. Skarsgård then tells his wife-beating victim calmly to call a cab and go to hospital and to tell them he fell down the stairs.

Both acts of violence that happen on screen here as well as the act of violence that caused Skarsgård to be in prison in the first place are all presented as being entirely necessary, which is quite interesting for such a film. The final act is the only way that Skarsgård can find his way out of a difficult situation and try and get on with whatever the rest of his life is going to be. We can understand him and sympathise with why he did it.

The film's not all about Skarsgård. It's populated by amusing and well drawn characters. It was fun seeing Aksel Hennie in a small pre-fame cameo as a foul-mouthed gun-runner, while Gard B. Eidsvold is good fun as the Steve Buscemi / Donny from The Big Lebowski character in the 'gang'. Jorunn Kjellsby is also lovely as the mechanic's secretary who Skarsgård might find a good thing with.

It perhaps relies on a slight contrivance towards the end but it's not as jarring as it could be because it's such a slight and undemonstrative film with a similar such performance from Skarsgård making this one of the very best performances of his career. It's a role that seems perfect for him in a way yet it's the kind of role he takes on all too infrequently. He is exactly the somewhat gentle presence that helps to make A Somewhat Gentle Man so very enjoyable.