Swede Nils Dickman (Stellan Skarsgård) is a popular guy: as the man who takes care of the snowplough, keeping this rural Norwegian region's roads passable, he has been awarded a Citizen of the Year prize, and though he's a taciturn fellow, he takes a certain pride in a job well done, and is rarely happier than when he is at the wheel of his machine. However, he suffers some very bad news when his son is reported having died of a drugs overdose and Nils and his wife are made to identify the body. But he refuses to believe his son was an addict, he knew him too well and it simply did not fit his personality. He's right, of course: his son was murdered by gangsters. Time for revenge.
The idea that a star who was getting on in years could prove themselves still having what it takes in the leading man stakes, not about to rest on any laurels or start taking the featured supporting roles (their names usually preceded by "AND" in the credits), was cemented in the action thriller genre by Liam Neeson's huge success Taken. This revitalised many an ageing star's career, mostly the men since female action stars over forty were thin on the ground, and it seemed fitting that Neeson should go on to take the protagonist part in the remake of this film, Cold Pursuit, claiming it would be his final such role as he was retiring from the gunplay game for good. His fans lamented.
In its original incarnation, on the other hand, In Order of Disappearance was less a high octane action thriller and more a deadpan, deliberately paced comedy-drama that may have had a thriller plot, but was more likely to contemplate the inexorable advance of death as it claimed the characters. Each time one of them was murdered, we had a short tribute: a card in black, with their nickname (if they had one - the gangsters certainly did), their full name and a symbol denoting their religious denomination, so we had some idea of what they expected the afterlife to be. By pausing the film every time this happened, the masses of murders came across as curiously absurd.
Nils, whose longsuffering demeanour may be as much to do with having to go through life with a surname that sounds to the Norwegians like "Cock-man" as it is now to do with trying to avenge the death of his apparently more sinned against that sinning son, was perfectly embodied by Skarsgård. We are largely sympathetic towards him because first, he is bereaved and his grief is sending him to extreme behaviour, and second, because he is pitting himself against some very nasty men indeed, but subtly director Hans Petter Moland guided us to ponder whether any of his activity, where tit for tat reigns supreme over the lives of some highly impulsive blokes, was doing any good, or whether these men were in fact a bunch of idiots whose code of honour has left them vulnerable to destruction.
You know the sort of thing, you've seen it in many a gangster flick, one hood is shot and he must be avenged by his gang on the rivals, and that’s what the head of the criminals who murdered Nils' son think is happening when Nils starts his campaign of violence, initially pitching his victims' bodies over a towering waterfall in a memorably image made ridiculous by repetition. That head gangster was Greven (Pål Sverre Hagen), kind of the psychopathic yuppie you would get as the baddies in nineties action movies in the wake of the all-time champ, Alan Rickman in Die Hard, yet here brought low by a custody battle for his meek son with his terminally unimpressed ex-wife. That Nils eventually ends up taking care of Greven's son (not like that!) when Greven had "taken care of" his own offspring (yes, exactly like that) offered yet another observation on just how daft these people were, had they not dedicated their lives to crime and, in essence, death. But even then, you laughed, if only a little, and the final image was so bizarre it might make you reassess the whole thing as a spoof.