Lovers of Nordic Noir rejoice, the adaptation of the international best-seller The Keeper of Lost Causes has arrived on the big screen and it's a polished and taut production worthy of the celebrated source material.
Missing politician Merete Lynggaard (Sonja Richter) becomes the first re-opened cold case
This is the first in the Department Q series, five stand-alone stories centred around detective Carl Morck. It begins as Morck finds himself on the wrong end of an ambush which kills one of his colleagues and leaves another, his best friend, paralysed in hospital. Morck's psychological deterioration from this incident makes him a liability to the police force, but rather than being pensioned out, he's relegated to a basement and given folders full of long neglected unsolved cases to file. Morck is given an assistant in the form of Syrian immigrant Hafez El-Assad and is expected to keep out of harm's way.
Not being one to give much respect to authority, and itching to get back into some meaty Homicide procedurals, Morck starts delving into one of the cold cases, that of young and attractive politician Merete Lynggaard, who seemingly jumped to her death from a ferry five years earlier. Slowly but surely Morck and Assad penetrate a mystery that on the surface has no clues. Meanwhile the regular flashbacks to five years previous provide the audience with a slowly accumulating exposition of Lynggaard's history.
While the story itself is not the most convoluted or surprising premise you've ever heard, where Keeper sets itself apart from other Scandi crime is by injecting healthy doses of deft humour and showing a generosity with its complex characters, while continually keeping us in the grip of suspense with a smartly structured script..
Carl Morck (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) and Hafez El-Assad (Fares Fares) search for clues in Department Q
The book has been adapted to the screen by Nikolaj Arcel, who also adapted the original language The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and wrote and directed A Royal Affair. He's done a sterling job of paring the story down to a 97 minute film. While some of the peripheral characters have been reduced to almost nothing, the essence of the book is intact and the narrative zips along.
Production values are also tops, with crisp editing and lush cinematography that contrasts the dank, smoke filled browns of basement office scenes with the rich gloss of wintry exteriors.
Chemistry between the two detectives is the heart of the story, and the film is greatly aided by the casting of its two leads. Nikolaj Lie Kaas, a veteran of early Lars Von Trier films, adds layers of vulnerability and pain to the abrupt and officious Morck, making him more sympathetic to us than to his colleagues, while Fares Fares' Assad has a gravity and dignity quite different to his gushing, eager to please literary counterpart.
Last year in Denmark The Keeper of Lost Causes was the highest grossing movie of the year, beating all the Hollywood blockbusters, and after selling out recently at the Scandinavian Film Festival throughout Australia, it's success looks set to spread to our shores.
Fortunately the producers have learnt from the mistakes of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and have resisted the urge to quickly knock out the sequels as cheap made for TV movies. The next in the Department Q series, The Absent One, drops in Danish cinemas later this year and is likely to continue doing justice to the hugely popular book franchise.