Suspenseful Scandi crime thriller – a disgraced homicide detective is assigned to the cold cases department and uncovers the unexplained disappearance of a politician five years earlier.
In Cold Blood by Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Shot mainly in murky blues and greys, this intense Scandi crime thriller would slot neatly into BBC4’s Saturday evening schedules as the pilot episode of yet another acclaimed subtitled television series. In fact, it’s a film adaptation of the first of several best-selling novels by Danish author Jussi Adler-Olsen. It has the requisite idiosyncratic lead detective in depressed and moody Carl Mørck (Nikolaj Lie Kaas, The Killing’s Mathias Borch, with an unsettling resemblance to Dominic West). Still torturing himself after leading a botched ambush that resulted in the death of one of his team and the paralysis of another, he returns from sick leave to find that he has been demoted, in effect, to Department Q, the gloomy basement filing-cabinet-filled repository of cold cases. He resents the positive outlook and helpful attitude of the assistant he has been allocated – loud-music-loving Assad of Arabic appearance (Lebanese actor Fares Fares, from Zero Dark Thirty), for whom this is his first long-awaited step on the police career ladder.
The odd-couple relationship between the two gives what is otherwise a routine thriller – albeit with a unusual prop – an extra layer. Bearded Assad is possibly a refugee and migrant – his background is left unexplained but he hints that he has seen things that are far worse than Mørck has experienced. He persuades Mørck to go against their orders ands reopen the case of Merete Lynggaard (Sonja Richter, The Killing’s Marie Borch), an up-and-coming young, attractive female politician who apparently committed suicide five years ago by jumping from a ferry, and whose body was never found. Why would she do that and leave her brain-damaged brother who was with her alone and unprotected, he asks. Mørck is churlish, reluctant, but still grudgingly professional. Together they uncover the shortcomings of the original investigation and they’re hooked.
The title of Adler-Olsen’s original novel is Kvinden i buret, which translates as Woman in a Cage. And early on in the film we see in flashbacks that Merete has, in fact, been imprisoned for the last five years in isolation in a glass bubble – a pressure chamber – in an unidentified, claustrophobic, green-tinged gloom. Her only contact with the outside world is her unseen kidnapper’s voice, distorted through an intercom. He informs her that once a year he will increase the painful pressure on her until it is so unbearable that her body will not be able to withstand it. The plot relies for its suspense on the race against time to crack the case, as the narrative switches back and forth between the detectives’ investigations and the mounting threat to Merete’s life in the present day, and flashbacks which gradually reveal Merete’s past, what may link her to her unknown kidnapper, and the twisted psychpathic motive for her torture and planned murder.
Assad has the empathy for others that embittered Mørck lacks, and he seeks the key to the mystery by trying to gain the confidence of Merete’s fragile brother Uffe (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard, A Royal Affair), seriously disturbed and now in a care home, in an attempt to unlock his memories of her abduction. Mørck and Assad are both suspended as a result but, of course, they continue their investigation unofficially and start to close in on the killer as time runs out for Merete and the pressure – literally – increases until the final tense showdown.
The Keeper of Lost Causes is genuinely gripping, even though the direction is fairly standard and the main plot elements are predictable. Merete’s determination to retain her identity in her bizarre imprisonment – an inescapably contemporary theme – is created effectively, and sympathy is created for her as she shows her determination to survive though a gruesome scene involving pliers and a tooth. Even the unlikely existence of the pressure chamber is finally explained – I think… European racism directed at immigrants such as Assad is another theme which sets the plot in present-day Denmark and Sweden (where their hunt briefly takes them – this is a Danish/Swedish/German coproduction). In this light, Mørck and Assad are an intriguing partnership and the seesawing dynamics of their complementary personalities could provide interesting developments in future.
The Keeper of Lost Causes was, unsurprisingly, the top box office film in Denmark in 2013. A film adaptation of Fasandræberne (The Absent One), the next novel in the series, is set for release in October, again starring Nikolaj Lie Kaas and Fares Fares and directed by Mikkel Nørgaard, who directed some of TV’s other Scandi hit, Borgen.
The Keeper Of Lost Causes is released on 29th August 2014 in the UK