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Keeper of Lost Causes, The

Original title: Kvinden i buret

aka The Woman in the Cage

D: Mikkel Nørgaard / 97m

Cast: Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Fares Fares, Sonja Richter, Peter Plaugborg, Søren Pilmark, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, Troels Lyby

Following a police raid that leaves his partner, Hardy (Lyby) paralysed and another officer dead, detective Carl Mørck (Kaas) is transferred out of homicide and into Department Q, which deals exclusively with cold cases. His brief, along with his assistant, Assad (Fares), is to review the cases, submit a brief report and then close them. The first case he looks at concerns the apparent suicide of politician Merete Lynggaard (Richter) five years ago. Something about the case doesn’t make sense to Mørck and he reopens the investigation. He looks through the witness statements and finds that one statement wasn’t included in the final report: that Merete’s brother, Uffe (Følsgaard), who was with her on the ferry she is supposed to have jumped overboard from, was seen with a man in a raincoat.

Since Merete’s suicide, Uffe has resided in a home. Mørck and Assad visit him but his condition – brain damage from a car accident when he and Merete were children – prevents him from being of any help. A conversation with one of Merete’s colleagues reveals her liaison with a man at a conference shortly before she killed herself. Mørck gets hold of the list of attendees and photos that were taken at the conference. Suspecting that Uffe might recognise one of the men at the conference, they show him the various photos that show Merete and one of the male delegates. Uffe does recognise one of them, a man named Daniel Hale. With a solid lead to work with, Mørck’s investigation is brought up short by his boss, Marcus (Pilmark) following a complaint by the manager of the home and the original investigating officer. Unable to let things go, Mørck continues his investigation and travels to Sweden to speak to Hale.

When he and Assad get there, they discover that Hale died a few months after Merete’s suicide. They also discover that the man who attended the conference and was recognised by Uffe isn’t Daniel Hale. Learning that the man is likely to be a friend of Hale’s known as Lasse, the pair return to Denmark only to be suspended from duty. But again, Mørck can’t let things drop, and their investigation leads to an isolated farmhouse and a revelation involving the car accident that left Uffe in his current condition.

Keeper of Lost Causes, The - scene

The first of four movies adapted from Danish author Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Department Q novels – The Absent One (2014), A Conspiracy of Faith (2015), and The Purity of Vengeance (TBC) complete the quartet – The Keeper of Lost Causes is an efficient, gripping thriller that introduces possibly one of the dourest police detectives in recent cinema history. At one point, Assad remarks that he’s never seen Mørck smile. Mørck’s response? “My wife left me. My colleague’s dead, and my best friend’s a cripple … I don’t have a lot to smile about.” It’s a pithy, succinct summation of Mørck’s character, and while it seems in keeping with the recent trend in Scandinavian crime fiction and movies, the combination of Mørck’s gloomy outlook on life and Kaas’s glum demeanour raise this particular movie into the above average category.

With the central character so firmly established in the opening fifteen minutes, the movie is then free to concentrate on the mystery surrounding Merete’s apparent suicide. But as Mørck begins to piece together the clues that point to something more sinister, the script by Nikolaj Arcel takes a parallel line and shows the viewer what happened that day on the ferry. It’s a bold move, as the mystery elements inherent in the story are jettisoned in favour of a more cross-linear approach where the events of five years before run concurrently with the progress of Mørck’s investigation. This leaves the viewer with an entirely different type of crime drama than seems in play from the beginning, and while the villain of the piece enters the story quite late in the day, their appearance and the reason for their behaviour is cleverly revealed (even if what they actually do isn’t properly explained or feels credible).

The plot and various storylines play out with a surprising attention to detail, and Arcel’s adaptation does a good job of downplaying any implausibilities such as Mørck’s boss Marcus ignoring the progress he’s made in disputing the suicide theory. This aside, the movie is a solid, methodically paced crime drama that works best by keeping it simple, and Nørgaard’s unfussy, yet expressive direction is best exemplified by two moments of unexpected lyricism relating to Merete’s childhood. He’s good with the cast as well, eliciting strong, confident performances from all concerned. Kaas’s downbeat yet focused portrayal of Mørck is one of the things that makes the movie work so well; he’s completely credible as the impatient, disrespectful and arrogant ex-homicide detective who finds a new home in Department Q. And he’s matched for dedication and immersion in the role by Fares as Assad. Fares, who is Lebanese, spent two months learning Danish for the movie, but you wouldn’t know it. Assad is the sidekick role, but Fares brings a determination and an intelligence to the role that a lot of seasoned actors would have skirted past on their way to a more stereotypical portrayal.

Shot by DoP Eric Kress with an emphasis on dark, shadowy interiors and overcast, cloudy exteriors, the movie is recognisably part of the recent Nordic Noir genre that has spawned a myriad of similar tales both on the big screen and television. But thanks to a clever script, a director on top of his game, and a cast that brings credibility to (almost) every scene, The Keeper of Lost Causes is a terrific first movie in the series. If this outing is anything to go by, then the remaining three movies will definitely be ones to watch.

Rating: 8/10 – a well-paced, intelligent, and above all, absorbing crime thriller, The Keeper of Lost Causes is a testament to good story telling; quietly ambitious, the movie is a terrific example of how to maintain suspense without undermining either the plot or the characters.