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" Time for me to row with all the other slaves "
— Leonardo DiCaprio, Titanic

MRQE Top Critic

Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life

Lara punches a shark, rides a motorcycle on the Great Wall of China, and dives off a skyscraper —Matt Anderson (review...)

Jolie fits nicely into Lara Croft's boots

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There is the literal freedom of getting out of prison. But as Ulrik (Stellan Skarsgård) discovers, there is also a deeper sense of freedom that only comes from taking charge of your life.

Easy Going

Ulrik takes each day in stride
Ulrik takes each day in stride

Ulrik is released from prison, given a bottle of port, and sent on his way. He meets up with an old friend, a small-time gang boss who helps him seek revenge on the rat who put him in prison. The boss also finds him a cheap apartment and a job as a mechanic.

Ulrik also looks up his old lady, who tells him where their son lives. Ulrik has been in prison for 12 years (for murder), and his son is now 25. When they meet, it’s not terribly awkward, just brief and chilly. Rather than explain his father was guilty of murder, Ulrik’s son told his new bride that his father was dead, so dad will have to be “Uncle” Ulrik, and won’t be allowed too close to the family.

Ulrik is cool with that, just like everything else life throws his way. The apartment is a little dingy, but he’s seen worse. The Landlady is demanding, but after all it’s her place. She decides to feed him after all. He’s grateful for the food but could go without if he had to. Whatever.

The only problem with Ulrik’s new-found easygoing personality is that he might not have the heart to take revenge on the punk who squealed and put him in jail. And the gang boss wouldn’t like that.

A Man For Our Times

Tons of details pack A Somewhat Gentle Man. In a brief cutaway, Ulrik disinterestedly witnesses his old crime pals picking a fight with a driver and dumping her in a dumpster. In another, he shops for a present for his to-be grandchild, and panics when a baby doll he had picked up suddenly cries out loud. These details often surprised me; a more cost-conscious director might have done without. Yet by Ulrik’s reaction, they shed insight into his character; sometimes stoic, sometimes jittery. They also make the movie seem more real; it’s not just a staged drama, but a slice of life set in an unpredictable world.

Even so, A Somewhat Gentle Man might have seemed slow and flat without Skarsgård’s charisma. Ulrik’s attitude is warm and comforting. Though he almost never smiles, his weathering of any situation makes him a model character for an audience living in a recession. Ulrik is a man completely at peace with himself, with no illusions. When asked why he was in prison, he admits to murder as though it made sense at the time. Whatever life has in store for him today is fine — dancing (even though he’s terrible at it), fighting (he’s very good at it but dislikes it), casual sex, or just a quiet night in front of the TV.

Since we didn’t know Ulrik before prison, we don’t know whether it broke his spirit, or if he was always so stoic. But he’ll bide his time until he figures things out. And it’s probably not saying too much to note that it isn’t until the very end when we see him crack a genuine smile.

A Somewhat Gentle Man has a nice, light touch and dry Scandinavian humor (the mambo version of The Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies is a perfect fit, somehow). It’s a fine complement to a heavy film-festival menu.