The Middle Man – Review

Worth seeing: as an inexplicable attempt to set a Scandinavian dark comedy in the US, but forgetting to include any comedy - or any Americans
Director:Bent Hamer
Featuring:Pål Sverre Hagen, Tuva Novotny, Aksel Hennie, Bill Lake, Don McKellar, Jim Stark, Nicolas Bro, Nina Andresen Borud, Paul Gross, Rossif Sutherland, Sheila McCarthy, Trond Fausa Aurvåg
Length:95 minutes
Country:Canada, Germany, Norway
Released:10th March 2023


You’d have to be pretty unlucky to live in the Midwest town of Karmack. There are no jobs. Everyone is miserable. And people keep dying in accidents.

The Commission that runs the town – comprising a doctor, a pastor and the sheriff – decide to hire a Middle Man to pass on the bad news to the families of those who die, so that they can concentrate on running the place. Or running the place down, more like.

Frank (Pål Sverre Hagen) – a former rail worker, unemployed since the local station closed down – gets the job, buys a dark suit and paints his car a suitably sombre colour before heading off to start delivering upsetting news to his already depressed neighbours.


Made during the tail-end of the Trump administration, there was perhaps something that this film was trying to say, but three years, a pandemic and a change of president later, much of it feels less authentic. Oddly though – perhaps fortuitously – the poverty seems more in line with the post-Covid depression than the booming economy before the pandemic.

But the Norwegian writer-director Bent Hamer can’t be held responsible for the timing. He doesn’t get a free pass on anything else, though.

It’s not really clear why this entire town is run by a Commission of just three people – why there are so many accidents – why they need a Middle Man in the first place – or why Frank is really the most qualified person in town to do the job. Or why in a town where so many people are supposedly dying in accidents that they need to employ someone specially to pass on the bad news, few enough people die during the course of the film that Frank knows most of the families personally already.

It’s not remotely convincing that Frank almost immediately begins a relationship with the Commission’s secretary, Blenda (Tuva Novotny) – or that her ex-boyfriend Bob (Trond Fausa Aurvåg) should hurt Frank’s best and only friend – or that he should himself come to the harm that he does – or that Frank’s mother should suddenly turn against him.

Perhaps most peculiarly, why on earth have most of the characters in Karmack, USA, got Scandinavian accents? The largely Norwegian, Danish and Swedish cast – topped up with a few Canadians (it was filmed there) – seem oddly out of place. Why not just set this adaptation of Lars Saabye Christensen’s novel in Norway or cast American actors alongside their Canadian counterparts?

The Middle Man wants to be a quirky small-town dark comedy, but the situation doesn’t convince, the characters aren’t interesting enough and it’s never funny – even when a scene feels like a set-up to a joke, it fails to pay off. Quirky without funny is just weird.

The film is billed as a “bizarre and absurd look at Trump’s USA” – this anachronistic release is indeed bizarre and absurd – but not for the reasons it thinks. Now I need to find a Middle Man to give them the bad news.