Frank Farrelli (Norwegian actor Pål Sverre Hagen) is a quiet and unemployed man in his 20s living with his mother (Nina Andresen Borud) in a sleepy American town called Karmack, bang in the middle of nowhere. Buildings are old and crumbling, and locals seem to have little entertainment other than drinking beer at the the local joint. Frank’s buddy Steve (Rossif Sutherland) also seems to have little purpose in life. Frank’s life begins to change after he lands a very unusual job opportunity as a “middle man”.
His new occupation consists of delivering shocking news on behalf of the local police to the families of people who have either died or been involved in a horrible incident. His only experience relevant to the job was once breaking the news of his father’s bizarre death to his mother. At first his new work is very quiet, with Frank fully suited and booted and on standby mode for long hours. His mother complains that his idle routine is having a negative impact on their life, arguing that it was better when he did “nothing at all”.
This is a movie dotted with strange tragedies and deaths, without the graphic details. We learn that Frank’s father fell from a ladder on a garden rake and consequently had his skull cracked open “like an egg”. Two young women were dragged by a train after inexplicably walking on the tracks at night. One of them was so heavily disfigured she could barely be identified, while the other survived but not without having most of her face ripped off. One of the protagonists (someone known to Frank) suffers brain injury upon hitting his head on the corner of a juke box. Frank is present during the accident, putting him in the unusual position of being both the witness and the middle man. Frank also fulfils a third role: he comforts the father of the victim, played by Kenneth Welsh (in his final role: the Canadian actor died last May at the age of 80).
This is a movie with high production values. The chiaroscuro photography in combined a touch of Edward Hopper urban solitude. This sombre, despondent atmosphere is in line with the lacklustre life of the characters. The taste for aesthetic and thematic darkness has earned the American director comparisons with David Lynch and the Coen brothers.
The Middle Man sits somewhere between a deadpan comedy and a sullen drama. The characters remain mostly stoic and unemotional as they grapple with the many ironic twists of fate within the film. Sadly, this 95-minute movie elicits neither laughter nor tears. The characters are neither likeable nor objectionable, and they are barely credible. There is a some banal message about the inevitability of death, and serendipitous love, but ultimately this is a film that ends up without much to say.
Bent Hamer’s eighth feature is an adaptation of Sluk, a 2012 novel by Danish-Norwegian writer Lars Saabye Christensen. Despite being set in the US, the majority of the cast are Scandinavian.
The Middle Man is in cinemas across the UK on Friday, March 10th.