TIFF 2021: The Middle Man

Image courtesy of TIFF

An accident-prone town needs a bearer of bad news in The Middle Man.

In the small town of Karmack, mild-mannered Frank Farelli (Pål Sverre Hagen) applies for the job of “middle man,” a guy who gives out bad news. He gets the job on a two-month trial period, learning the ropes and gaining a reputation as the bearer of bad news as it’s to be expected, but things get complicated as Frank’s close relationship with everyone in town becomes strained. The Sherriff (Paul Gross) also needs Frank to be a bit of a snitch, which also causes trouble with Bob (Trond Fausa Aurvåg), the town bully and ex-boyfriend, to Blenda (Tuva Novotny), Frank’s assistant and new girlfriend. When Bob gravely injures Frank’s best friend Steve (Rossif Sutherland), a series of events reveal the darker side Karmack.

Adapted from a novel by Norwegian author Lars Saabye Christensen and directed by fellow Norwegian Bent Hamer, The Middle Man wins the trophy for absurdist and awkward dramedy. The tone of the entire film is awkward, from Frank’s acceptance of the job to his bad news delivery.

Karmack is in a weird limbo like many towns left in the dust of progress. That means patriarchal archetypes perpetually in charge; instead of the butcher, baker and candlestick maker, we get The Sherriff, The Doctor (Don McKellar) and The Pastor (Nicolas Bro), overseeing the whole town as it lays stagnant.

This type of town made Fargo a quirky classic, but The Middle Man doesn’t quite find its stride. It was hard to place this Anytown, USA with the Norwegian and Canadian cast, lending a distinct Euro/Canadian feel to the film. Perhaps that’s the overall point, but I would have enjoyed the ride more if the American flags were replaced with Norwegian ones.

Despite this, the performances were quite good, with Gross and Hagen stealing the show. There were also Canadian powerhouses Sheila McCarthy and Kenneth Walsh on the roster, adding to the absurdist quality of this purgatorial life and Hamer’s signature style.

Check out the 2021 TIFF festival here.

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