The setting is Karmac in Any Midwest State, USA. Terrible things happen on an almost daily basis. It’s so grim there the flags at City Hall are permanently at half-mast. The only growth industry in town is accident clean-up, the crew that comes in to tidy up after bad things happen.
The city is going broke, pretty soon they won’t be able to turn on the streetlights, which, says the local doctor (Don McKellar), will lead to even more mishaps, so they need to hire a Middle Man, someone to deliver bad news to the families of the bereaved.
Frank, out of work for three years, applies, even though his only qualifications are a hangdog demeanor and telling his mother that his father fell off a ladder, hit his head and died.
He gets the gig, learns the ropes—”Crying is a privilege that belongs to the next of kin,” says the sheriff (Paul Gross), “not the middle man.”—and forms a bond with receptionist Blenda (Tuva Novotny). When Bob (Trond Fausa Aurvåg), Brenda’s ex-boyfriend and failed Middle Man candidate, strikes and kills Frank’s best friend, it sets into motion of events that causes an overwhelmed Frank to wonder if his new position is right for him or not. “It’s a busy job,” he says, “accidents don’t keep office hours.”
Norwegian director Bent Hamer, who also wrote the script based on a novel by Norwegian-Danish writer Lars Saabye Christensen, may have set the story in the Midwest, but his dark, deadpan humour is purely Scandinavian. This semi-comedic study of loss and grief, is macabre in tone but maintains a quirky, if bleak, sense of itself. Dialing up the farcical aspects of the story may have increased the film’s commercial appeal but may have chipped away at Hamer’s thoughtful consideration of life in a small, unusual town.
“The Middle Man” won’t be for everyone, but viewers with a taste for unconventional but restrained absurdism will find much to enjoy.