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Which Skarsgård is the True Står?

July 4, 2016

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True confession: I just walked out after enduring 45 laughably awful minutes of The Legend of Tarzan, the latest ill-fated attempt to make Edgar Rice Burroughs’ ape man swing again. Even though I paid extra for the 3-D glasses, the tale felt frustratingly one-dimensional: stolid and dull. Actors as vivid as Samuel L. Jackson and an all-but-mustache-twirling Christoph Waltz seemed lost in the jungle. One wonders what their frequent collaborator Quentin Tarantino could’ve done with this material; instead it fell to David Yates, probably as a thank you from Warner Bros. for keeping the Harry Potter franchise on track in its final four installments (and a pricey thank-you it was—the film reportedly cost $180 million to make and another $100 million+ to market).

The most disappointing part of The Legend of Tarzan—or at least of the part I could stomach— was Alexander Skarsgård (hey, I figured out how to make that little circle over the a!) in the title role. When first we see him, he’s sipping tea with his pinky up in the air, like a civilized gentleman, you see. But once he heads home to Africa in a convoluted plot involving diamonds, slavery and Margot Robbie doing an annoying American accent as Jane, he still seems like a stiff. One wishes the ex-True Blood vamp could summon some of the animalistic swagger of Robbie’s Wolf of Wall Street leading man, Leonardo DiCaprio.

Or of Skarsgård’s own fåther (sorry, those little circles are so much fun to make!), Stellan, in another film that hit theaters over the Fourth of July weekend, Our Kind of Traitor. The John Le Carré adaptation also gets off to a slow start—not much happens in the first hour, as a poetics professor (a surprisingly bland Ewan McGregor) and his lawyer wife (Naomie Harris, who’s at least got more to do here than as 007’s freshly minted Miss Moneypenny) get mixed up with money-laundering Russian mobsters. But Stellan’s infectiously sleazy turn as a nogoodnik carries you along and helps sell the far-fetched conceit that McGregor and Harris would become bodyguards for the gangster and his family once the bullets finally start flying. It’s also refreshing to hear Homeland casualty/Billions liability Damian Lewis not doing an American accent for a change as the MI6 operative who becomes their ally.

As Le Carré adaptations go, Our Kind of Traitor falls somewhere below Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (either the Alec Guinness miniseries or the Gary Oldman film) and the underrated Phillip Seymour Hoffman posthumous release A Most Wanted Man, not to mention the recent miniseries The Night Manager, with a memorably evil Hugh Laurie. Yet when the plot ultimately kicks in, you’ll be glad you stuck with it. Maybe I would’ve said the same about Tarzan if I hadn’t run yelling from the theater like Carol Burnett.  

By the way, there’s a superior elder Skarsgård vehicle coming soon: In Order of Disappearance (due in theaters and on VOD August 26). The Swedish actor plays Nils Dickman, a Norwegian snowplow driver—stay with me here—determined to knock off the drug dealers who killed his son via a staged heroin overdose.

Set against a snowy white backdrop, this stylized revenge story plays as a very black comedy, but Stellan (okay, I’m finally tired of making all those little circles) keeps it grounded in a gritty reality. Never for a second do you believe he’s anyone but a grieving father determined to avenge his beloved son’s murder. But with his flowing blond tresses, chiseled bod, and ridiculously limited range, Alexander reminded me less of Tarzan than of Fabio. In short: I can’t believe he’s not better.

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