Freshly freed from a 12-year prison stint (murder!), quiet, rumpled Ulrik doesn't have much to do. He has a limp ponytail, a bottle of liquor, and only one friend: volatile local crime boss Jensen (when we first meet Jensen, he is tossing a live woman into the garbage over a parking dispute—in Norway, even the scary misogyny has a whiff of whimsy). Ulrik wants to stay straight, he wants to reconnect with his estranged adult son, but he's got a slow, cold road ahead: "I told her my father is dead," says the son when Ulrik finally finds him and his pregnant fiancée. And so Ulrik sits in a dank basement, he watches Polish game shows, he eats boiled fish, he fixes cars, he has fast awkward sex and kind good sex, while Jensen doggedly tugs him back toward his old ne'er-do-well ways. "It's time to settle this account," Jensen says, golden tooth glinting.
A Somewhat Gentle Man is an unsentimental, darkly optimistic, quietly funny character study that gets under your skin just when you think you're bored—just when you're about to write it off as Boiled Potato: The Movie. Immense Swede Stellan Skarsgård brings a sweet, menacing placidity to Ulrik, an unsure but unwavering man who's simply lost his place. Spending two hours with him is pleasant, a lesson in firm Scandinavian common sense: "You wake up and realize that life isn't over after all." Awwwwwww.