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Original title: Fasandræberne

D: Mikkel Nørgaard / 119m

Cast Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Fares Fares, Pilou Asbæk, David Dencik, Sarah-Sofie Boussnina, Danica Curcic, Nikolaj Groth, Søren Pilmark, Beate Bille, Marco Ilsø, Philip Stilling, Kristian Høgh Jeppesen, Johanne Louise Schmidt, Hans Henrik Clemensen, Peter Christoffersen, Katrine Rosenthal

At a police awards ceremony, cold case investigator Carl Mørck (Kaas) is accosted by a retired policeman who begs him to look into the case of his two children who were both killed in 1994. Mørck refuses, and later the man commits suicide, prompting Mørck, supported by his partner Assad (Fares) to look into the case. They learn that the siblings both attended the same boarding school, and that there was a call to the police – made by a young woman – alerting them to the crime. With this as their only clue, Mørck and Assad visit the school where they learn that the young woman was probably Kimmie Lassen (Boussnina); but unfortunately for them she hasn’t been seen in twenty years.

Learning also that Kimmie’s friends at the time included now reputable businessmen Ditlev Pram (Asbæk) and Ulrik Dybbøl (Dencik), and that the man who confessed to the crime, Bjarne Thøgersen (Jeppesen), was represented by the best criminal lawyer in Denmark, Bent Krum (Clemensen), and only served three years in prison, Mørck and Assad sense a conspiracy. They visit Thøgersen who alerts Pram to the new interest in the deaths. Pram hires a man named Albjerg (Christofferson) to look for Kimmie, while Mørck endeavours to find her first. But an older Kimmie (Curcic) is also a very wary Kimmie, and with the help of her friend, Tine (Rosenthal), she manages to stay one step ahead of everyone when she becomes aware that people are looking for her. But Albjerg tracks her down, and though she gets away, she also has a run in with Mørck that leaves him bruised and battered.

Meanwhile, Pram and Dybbøl use their political contacts to put pressure on senior police in an effort to get Mørck and Assad taken off the case. Furious, Mørck confronts his immediate boss (Pilmark) and makes enough of a case from the evidence that he’s amassed to show that it should be pursued further, and that Kimmie Lassen holds the key to what happened twenty years ago. When she is finally caught by the police, it seems that Pram and Dybbøl’s arrest is only a matter of time. But Kimmie has other ideas: she escapes and goes after them herself, as much to kill them first, and as much again to make up for her involvement in the deaths of the young brother and sister.

Fasandraeberne - scene

As much a riveting crime thriller as its predecessor, The Keeper of Lost Causes (2013), The Absent One is another triumphal adaptation of a novel by Jussi Adler-Olsen. With almost everyone involved in the first movie returning to make this one, the movie is like a seamless addition to what is an ongoing series. The tone, the feel, the pace, and the sensibility of The Absent One is such that anyone who has seen The Keeper of Lost Causes can slip into the series’ bleak, gloomy mise en scene with ease, sure in the knowledge that what follows will be of an equally high standard, and equally as satisfying (if not more so).

There are several reasons for this, not least the taut, gripping screenplay by Nikolaj Arcel and his writing partner Rasmus Heisterberg. In distilling Adler-Olsen’s novel they’ve kept the focus on the ripple effect the murders have had over the years, as well as Mørck’s inability to let something go once he’s got a grip on it. The detective’s persistence and dogged nature – which are pretty much all he has to keep him going – is beautifully expressed through Kaas’s beleaguered performance. This is a man who keeps his pain externalised to stop it from eating away at him inside, but the payoff is a lack of compassion and sympathy for others; he only takes on the case in the first place because he can’t deal with the guilt of refusing the retired policeman. Kaas gives a wonderfully fractured portrayal of Mørck, growing further into the character and inhabiting him completely.

Ably supported by Fares, whose Assad is never a foil for Mørck, Kaas heads up a cast that never puts a foot wrong, even in the smaller roles. The script supports them all the way, assembling the pieces of the plot with skill and precision, letting the viewer glimpse the events of twenty years ago without spoiling the true nature of the killings, and allowing the mystery surrounding those killings to remain in place almost until the very end. It’s a bold, confident approach, and allows the tension inherent in the story to build to a quietly devastating denouement (and which puts Mørck through the ringer once more – but then he probably wouldn’t have it any other way).

Retaining his place in the director’s chair, Nørgaard keeps things tightly focused and highlights the psychological toll felt by Kimmie over the course of twenty years (she has a terrible secret of her own that, when revealed, is the most upsetting thing seen in either movie). It’s to Nørgaard’s credit that Kimmie’s humanity is never downplayed,  and in the hands of Curcic, she’s a character so far removed from her younger self (also extremely well played by Boussnina) that the sadness of her situation is almost palpable. (In a better world, she and Mørck would make for an interesting couple.)

While the villains of the piece aren’t as effectively drawn, their callous natures are given plenty of screen time, as well as the slow disintegration of their self-confidence and eventual hubris. Asbæk and Dencik are appropriately cold and uncaring in their roles, revealing the innate hostility towards others that privilege has bestowed on them, and providing strong counterpoints to Mørck’s own disdain for others. It’s all reflected in the somber, unforgiving violence and shadowy dangers that permeate the movie and which help to make it such a rewarding (if slightly downbeat) experience.

Rating: 9/10 – a sequel that is as equally good as its forerunner, The Absent One is a dark, atmospheric thriller that is as uncompromising as it is compelling; with two further movies in the pipeline, let’s hope that the makers can maintain the quality shown so far.