Sunday, January 30, 2011

[REVIEW] - A Somewhat Gentle Man

While many people may focus ultimately on the lower quality, Hollywood fair, that often clogs the drain that is the dumping ground known as January, it is often the world of indie or foreign releases that truly save the beginning of a respective year from being nearly unbearable.

One of those very films, at least conceptually, is Hans Petter Moland’s latest effort, the Stellan Skarsgard-starring neo noir, A Somewhat Gentle Man. I mean, it’s really just simple math: interesting filmmaker, plus great lead actor, has to equal a solid film, right?

Well, when it comes to A Somewhat Gentle Man, it does. But only slightly.

Gentle Man follows a recently released convict, named Ulrik, who is released after serving 12 years for murder. Coming out, his world has changed holistically. He must deal with his crew, an ex, a few new women, a snitch, his son, and his forthcoming grandchild, which all have decisions that must be made. Some decisions are easy, so are difficult. However, this film follows this somewhat gentle man’s return to what we all call life.

The film’s star is the man behind the camera, and the style and aesthetic he crafts here. Oozing a sense of noir style that would make the Coen brothers blush with flattery, the film is very much in the vein of films like Fargo or specifically something like Miller’s Crossing, in the best way possible. A very cold and seemingly sterile film visually, there isn’t much going on within the frame, except straightforward visuals, that revel in being lo-fi stylistically. Really a breath of fresh air for what has been so far a rather bloated and unbearable obnoxious first month of 2011. The violence is completely and utterly blunt in the best and most visceral way possible, as is every line within the film, and it is this Coen-esque style, from palette to framing, that makes the film utterly compelling on a solely visual level

That said, the film also has a flaw within its core, which is almost insurmountable.

Within this really compelling bit of pulp narrative, the use of sex is nearly offensive. Seemingly mocking the sexuality of one of its characters, it is this character that is ultimately used as nothing more than a glorified plot device, which instead of being funny, is nearly offensive. Thankfully, a relationship that isn’t dreadful also plays a part of the film, which is actually one of the film’s strongest suits.

The film’s true strong suit however, is its wonderful acting.

Spearheading the film are a trio of really great performances. Skarsgard is great as the brooding, and yet truly “gentle” Ulrik, in one of the more interesting performances he’s given in quite some time. He’s one of today’s most interesting thespians, and while he is often relegated to films like Mama Mia, it is his work in such films as this that truly prove that. Jannike Kruse is the film’s real star, giving a wonderfully sweet, warm, and truly compelling performance as Ulrik’s love interest, Merete. Rounding out a great cast is Jan Gunnar Roise, as Ulrik’s estranged son, Geir. The relationship between Ulrik and Geir is ultimately the film’s most compelling aspect narratively, as it’s one of the only relationships that truly feels fleshed out. There is a sense of undying love between the two, maybe a mutual respect, that when the action begins to fall within their relationship, it’s utterly heartbreaking.

That said, the film ultimately fails itself at the very outset.

While wonderfully deadpan, the film’s screenplay and overall narrative is the physical embodiment of mediocrity. There is a great sense of dark humor that only sees brief moments of life, with the film relying on its lifeless sense of sentimentality to truly move the plot and the characters forward.

There is something to be said for a narrative like this. We as humans have an inherent sense of control over our given lives. However, what happens when that life falls into the hands of outside forces? That is, at this films core, the main thesis being discussed here. And while there are great glimpses into a world like that, such as the relationship between father and son shown so brilliantly here, we are instead given this absurdly limp and thematically sterile noir comedy, which prays on simple and uninteresting plot points to draw attention and emotion out of the audience.

Overall, the film isn’t a poor one. Featuring a fantastic collection of performances, the film’s visual style is overly compelling, doing the film more than a fair share of favors. A great turn by Stellan Skarsgard spearheading this film, fans of noir and dark comedies will find quite a bit to enjoy here. However, as a whole, the film doesn’t quite hit the mark. Jettisoning its inherently existential premise for a series of sentimental moments connected by straightforward line readings and one nearly offensive female character, the film ultimately leaves you feeling as though you missed out on something. Or not that you missed out on something, but something is wholly missing. A heart. A brain. Something is missing from this limp, cold, lifeless corpse of a film. Something at all. Something to make this film more than a disposable piece of cinema. Something to give this film traction. Something.


Go see something good!

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