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#TIFF21 Review: The Middle Man (Special Presentations)

September 12, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Frank Farelli (Pål Sverre Hagen) is an out of work sad-sack who is hired as the new “middle man” in the fictional town of Karmack, USA. The job involves being dispatched out to deliver bad news to residents when people die or accidents happen, a surprisingly common occurrence in the sleepy small town. This is the premise behind Norwegian director Bent Hamer’s solid new film The Middle Man, a Canadian co-production that is laced with pitch black humour and surprising pathos.

Hagen carries the film with a droll and finely tuned tragicomic performance. The eccentric cast of characters is rounded out by Trond Fausa Aurvåg as Frank’s rival Bob Spencer, who wanted the job of middle man for himself; Rossif Sutherland as Frank’s best friend Steve Miller; Nina Andresen Borud as his overbearing mother; and Tuva Novotny as Brenda, Frank’s secretary and love interest. Paul Gross also appears as the town’s strict sheriff.

The film is handsomely shot by cinematographer John Christian Rosenlund, who evocatively captures the boarded up windows and closed down businesses of this dying town. It was mostly shot in Sault Ste. Marie, which stands in nicely for Nowhere USA, with faded American flags seen flying at half-mast and Trump portraits on the wall of town hall.

Hamer’s film has an almost surrealistic quality as it examines a series of events that keep influencing each other and send things spiralling out of control. But under the guise of dark comedy, the filmmaker is also able to turn The Middle Man into a bittersweet and even strangely touching look at grief and how people react to loss, that builds to a dark but poignant ending.

Public Screenings:

Sunday, September 12th – 4:00 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox

Monday, September 13th – 5:00 PM at digital TIFF Bell Lightbox (Canada)

Wednesday, September 15th – 7:00 PM at digital TIFF Bell Lightbox (Canada)

Sunday, September 17th – 2:00 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox

The 2021 Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 9th to 18th.

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