Film review: THE KEEPER OF LOST CAUSES, from Built For Speed

No one does intense, depressing existential crime dramas quite like the Scandinavians. Through movies like The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and TV shows like The Killing and The Bridge they have forged a dark new sub-genre termed Scandi-noir. Fans of this sub-genre, will no doubt be salivating over the prospect of seeing the latest disturbing Danish thriller, The Keeper of Lost Causes and a few clichéd moments aside this film should not disappoint them.  In addition to being a typical Scandinavian crime drama this film also recalls David Fincher’s Seven with its cold, bleak and threatening urban setting, a case involving a mercurial killer and a grumpy lead character forced into an unwanted partnership with a more gentle and philosophical man.   Like Seven and the aforementioned Scandinavian thrillers, The Keeper of Lost Causes, which is apparently the first in a trilogy, is impressively tense and unnerving.

Following a tragically bungled arrest in which his partner was paralysed, and in which he was injured, homicide detective Carl Mørck (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) has been relegated to the apparently demeaning job of clearing up cold cases, that is, murders and disappearances that have remained unsolved for at least five years. Cynical, humourless and misanthropic, Carl feels ashamed of his new role. His appointed partner Assad (Fares Fares) is far more upbeat and committed and encourages Carl to delve deeper into a case involving female politician Merete Lynggaard’s (Sonja Richter) mysterious disappearance.  As Carl and Assad sift through the poorly-compiled evidence, they encounter every possible obstacle from unhelpful superiors, contemptuous colleagues and vague uncooperative witnesses but the discovery of a previously unseen picture provides a tantalising lead.

This film cleverly employs the tropes of Scandi-noir to craft a tense and at times disturbing thriller infused with grief, guilt and regret.  The film veers into quite perverse territory at times recalling the Korean film Old Boy but also infuses the story with startling lyrical qualities particularly when it delves into the main suspect’s disturbed childhood.

As Mørck, Nikolaj Lie Kaas mixes elements of Brad Pitt’s young hot-head detective from Seven and McNulty from The Wire although he is not quite as charismatic or memorable as either.  He simply comes across as a thirty-something grump and undergoes little in the way of character development. He is fine as a functional component of the film but his personal journey is not vital and he doesn’t connect with viewers on an emotional level.  As his assistant, Assad, Faes Faes is a much more likeable character. It’s refreshing to see a Muslim cast in a positive and heroic role although the film doesn’t reveal enough about him for Assad to engage us on anything more than a superficial level. Admittedly, as this is the first in a trilogy it is likely the film makers are deliberately withholding details about both his and Mørck’s lives and personalities.

While flawed, The Keeper of Lost Causes is another impressively tense, atmospheric and twisted journey into the dark world of Scandinavian crime thrillers.

Nick’s rating: ***1/2.

Genre: Thriller.

Classification: MA.

Director(s): Mikkel Nørgaard.

Release date: 31st July 2014

Running time:  97 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. 

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