There are so many streaming options available these days, and so many conflicting recommendations, that it’s hard to see through all the crap you could be watching. Each Friday, The Verge’s Cut the Crap column simplifies the choice by sorting through the overwhelming multitude of movies and TV shows on subscription services, and recommending a single perfect thing to watch this weekend.
What to watch
The 2014 Norwegian action-comedy In Order of Disappearance, starring Stellan Skarsgård as small-town snowplow driver Nils Dickman, who embarks on a mission of revenge after his son dies of an overdose. Dickman goes after the drug dealers he believes are responsible, but his plans become complicated as he ventures further into the local criminal underworld. Soon, Nils is obstructing long-established business arrangements in ways that make him a problem not just for his crooked countrymen, but to the international syndicates. Besides Skarsgård, In Order of Disappearance is filled with familiar faces from European cinema, including Game of Thrones’ red-bearded Kristofer Hivju as an ill-fated mob henchman, Peter Andersson as Nils’ shady brother, and Bruno Ganz as a Serbian crime lord who swoops into town and escalates the shooting war.
Why watch now?
Because an English-language remake of In Order of Disappearance — renamed Cold Pursuit, with Liam Neeson in the Skarsgård role — opens widely in theaters this weekend.
Neeson made headlines in the worst possible way this week, after he confessed in an interview with The Independent that he once contemplated murdering any random “black bastard” who started trouble with him, as his way of getting revenge for a friend who’d been raped. The actor told this story intending to make the point that a vengeful mindset can be corrosive to the soul, and ultimately futile. Understandably, pop culture commentators and social media fixated more on the “I really wanted to kill a random black guy for revenge” angle than on the reason Neeson brought it up in the first place. He was hoping to illustrate that he understands the motivations of the furious action heroes he’s played so often over the past decade, even if he doesn’t necessarily support their choices.
Amid all the furor, Cold Pursuit — the revenge thriller Neeson was trying to promote with that Independent interview — got a little lost in the shuffle. That’s too bad, because early reviews indicated that it’s on par with the best of the recent hit Neeson vehicles, like Taken, The Grey, Non-Stop, and The Commuter. The title has been changed, and the hero’s name, seemingly arbitrarily, morphed from “Nils Dickman” to “Nels Coxman.” But the original film’s director, Hans Petter Moland, is back on board for the remake, and he reportedly retains the first film’s combination of sardonic wit and a high body count.
Written by Danish screenwriter Kim Fupz Aakeson, In Order of Disappearance gets off to a deceptively unassuming start, with Skarsgård’s Dickman winning the “Citizen of the Year” award in his remote, snowy town of Tyos. Before the violence really ramps up, the movie features several scenes of the crime bosses, with their slicked-back long hair and tailored suits, just hanging out and talking casually about what they eat, how they feel about the government, and their opinions on how to fight bullies. Between the movie’s many, many murders, Aakeson and Moland subtly spoof the pretensions of manly men: how they try to intimidate each other with puffed-up posturing, and how they underestimate an unassuming, “respectable” schmo like Nils. In a way, the film is like one long dramatization of Neeson’s controversial anecdote, showing how amped-up, angry dudes can be equally ridiculous and dangerous.
Who it’s for
Fans of hard-hitting and blackly comic pulp adventures.
Unlike the usual bleak “Nordic noir” crime stories, In Order of Disappearance is quirky and often dryly amusing, recalling (entirely intentionally) both the Coen brothers’ Fargo and Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. It’s chatty for a gangster picture, and while Moland’s camera movements and framing are fairly non-flashy, the locations occasionally provide an extra comic kick. The skeevy main villain, Greven (played by Pål Sverre Hagen) lives an inherently hilarious lifestyle, slithering through homes and offices that have been decorated with a dimwit’s idea of fancy furniture. Nils’ enormous snowplow is pretty awesome, too, towering over the goons he’s about to toss off the side of a mountain.
The movie’s best visual gag, though, is the way the filmmakers punctuate each death with a cut to a black screen, emblazoned with the newly murdered man’s name. It’s like a perverse credit roll: the cast, in order of disappearance. At first, the memorials are helpfully informative. Then they’re funny. And then they’re chilling, and kind of overwhelming. It’s a remarkable effect, gradually getting the audience’s laughs to stick in their throats.
Where to see it
Netflix. For fans of Neeson’s revenge thrillers, Netflix also has the complete run of the short-lived NBC TV series based on Taken. For those more interested in the dramatic Neeson, the service is currently featuring one of his finest performances, in Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. Netflix carries a handful of Skarsgård’s films and TV shows, too, including the 2015 six-episode BBC police procedural River.