The Middle Man – Toronto 2021

L-R (facing camera): The Pastor (Nicolas Bro), The Sheriff (Paul Gross), and The Doctor (Don McKellar) interview Frank Farrelli (Pål Sverre Hagen) in The Middle Man. Courtesy of TIFF.

Writer-director Bent Hamer brings Lars Saabye Christensen’s novel, Sluk, to the big screen as The Middle Man premieres in Toronto.

It’s interesting to see a Norwegian filmmaker, Bent Hamer, base his script on a Norwegian novel and set it in the American Midwest. For a film that doesn’t have any origins in the US, I was honestly surprised to see the American flags. But anyway, this film is a dark comedy. I wouldn’t say it’s one in which you’ll be laughing out loud. With living in America over these last few years, you learn to enjoy the highlights. I digress…

Hamer sets the film in a small American town, Karmack, in the American Midwest. I hope no town is run like this one is because that would be a problem. The Commission is run by a Sheriff (Paul Gross), Doctor (Don McKellar), and Pastor (Nicolas Bro). Because of the many deaths and accidents, they’ve hired a Middle Man to inform families. They find such a Middle Man in the unemployed Frank Farrelli (Pål Sverre Hagen).

When Frank Farrelli–who lives at home with his mother–learns he might have the job, he celebrates by buying a T-bone at the butcher shop. He’s due for a celebration especially after losing his job with the railway company. Hey, if the train stops coming to town, you’ve got to find a job somewhere! And this, my readers, is where the dark comedy begins. Suffice it to say that when Frank shows up, you might want to pull out the Kleenex because the news won’t be good. But at some point, the pressure gets to him and then a new relationship with Blenda (Tuva Novotny) starts becoming overwhelming. What happens? Oh, I’ll let you just see for yourself.

Karmack could be any rural city in the Midwest. In reality, production took place in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario. Nothing like Canada standing in for the US! I’ve got give the filmmakers some credit because they pull off the look. The camera movement and lighting helps, too. We know what these towns can look like after the economy shatters and people leave town. The film depicts exactly the kind of look when this transpires. All you need to do is look at a film like Nicole Riegel’s Holler, which was shot in a small Ohio town. You know what? I’m thinking this could be Ohio or Pennsylvania. Factor in the river and it just makes sense. It just has the right kind of vibe. I mean, you just have this sense of a city in a swing state.

Hamer explores a lot of themes here that are sure to resonate with the audience. One of which is finding this sense of belonging and where do you fit in this kind of world. It isn’t just a film that reflects on the state of America during the Trump years but also in Europe. And so, it’s somewhat weird to see the film premiere during the Biden term.

The Middle Man is somehow able to find the humor of the situation.

CAST: Pål Sverre Hagen, Tuva Novotny, Nina Andresen Borud, Aksel Hennie, Trond Fausa Aurvåg, Kenneth Welsh, Nicolas Bro, with Don McKellar, Rossif Sutherland, and Paul Gross

The Middle Man holds its world premiere during the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival in the Special Presentations program.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.