Saturday, September 25, 2021

The Middle Man: Movie Review

Bizarre premise, set in the perfect town, let down by a stale story.

Frank (Pal Sverre Hagen) is the middle man, a newly created position in the fictional town of Karmack. The job requires somebody who has experience delivering bad news and can do it without crying. There’s been so much bad news lately that the Sheriff can’t do it all himself. And thus begins The Middle Man, a film with a bizarre premise and a story that can’t quite live up to it.   2021

Directed by: Brent Hamer

Screenplay by: Brent Hamer
Based on the novel by Lars Saabye Christensen

Starring: Pal Sverre Hagen

With gorgeous cinematography, Karmack is established as an old steel town, long past its economic boom, and well on its way to being a ghost town. Pollution billows out of the last remaining factories, trains rumble past but no longer stop, its depressed citizens are immune to disaster. Houses and cars are stuck in the 90s when it last faced economic prosperity. Karmack is middle America, it's supposed to be set during the Trump presidency but any references are so subtle that they’re non-existent.

Norwegian filmmaker Brent Hamer set up camp in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario and converted the Canadian city into Karmac – a town so perfectly characterized, that you know it. It looks like any town you’ve driven past but never stopped in, a town so unique that you’ll remember it. Three steel factories dot the river, their exhaust gases obfuscating the horizon; street lights give the quiet town an orange glow, perfect for the weird tragedies that are unfolding. But that’s where the film’s problems begin.

The focus isn’t on the weird tragedies. We hear about a few deaths, but we’re not interested in the what or who or why or how. The focus is on Frank as the middle man, who approaches his new job with a gusto that slowly takes him out of his depression. Frank’s an interesting character, but the story he’s in doesn’t have a lot happening. The story feels very episodic, and it explores how each new action affects Frank, but the action is not well connected, and moves very slowly.

The side characters alongside Frank are also interesting, and very clearly belong to this town, but don’t have a strong connection for the audience. Don McKellar is under-used as the town doctor and an unrecognizable Paul Gross plays the town’s Sheriff, a character who always seems off.

The Middle Man needs a better focus. Frank isn’t enough. The strong cinematic work that went into creating Karmac is impressive, but you’re left wanting a better story. Give me something more; the setting is there, the potential and premise is there, but it doesn’t go quite far enough.