The Absent One, 2014.
Directed by Mikkel Norgaard.
Starring Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Fares Fares, Danica Curcic, Pilou Asbaek and Johanne Louise Schmidt.
Since its first, spectacular success, the reputation of the cold case section of the Copenhagen police department has taken a nose dive – until its lead detective, Carl Morck, is approached by a former cop about the murder of his twin children. The case is 20 years old, the murderer was caught and convicted long ago. Except that Morck and fellow detective, Assad, feel there’s something suspiciously neat about the way the case was sewn up. They set about tracking down the remaining witness, following increasingly murky trail that leads to an elite boarding school and some powerful figures, in business and also in the police department itself.
While BBC Four plays fast and loose with its usual Saturday night Scandi noir slot, filling it with an economic thriller, anybody suffering withdrawal symptoms can get the proverbial shot in the arm from The Absent One, the second of the Department Q films. And if they happen to be watching Follow The Money on TV as well, they’ll spot a familiar face – Danish actor Nikolaj Lie Kaas, who’s back inhabiting the more familiar and unkempt persona of morose detective Carl Morck from the first Department Q film, The Keeper Of Lost Causes (2013).
They may be on a high with film makers at the moment, but sequels still face a long list of challenges. This one starts in promising fashion, developing the setting and main characters by precisely the right amount since last time. Morck and colleague, the Syrian-born Assad (Fares Fares), are now joined by the latest in a long line of secretaries, the resourceful Rose (Johanne Louise Schmidt). All the previous ones have come and gone in quick succession because of Morck’s behaviour: he can’t even muster the occasional thank you, let alone a smile, but the more diplomatic Assad persuades her to stay. There’s more on the wreckage of Morck’s personal life, with his teenage son coming to stay, although his father hardly seems to notice and lets him down. Yet a glimmer of humanity starts to pierce through the darkness of his character. The key to the case is Kimmie (Johanne Louise Schmidt), the now homeless witness to the murder all those years ago, and unusually, she kindles a spark of compassion in him.
All the essential Scandi gloom is there in abundance: atmospheric shadows and dour music, along with some seriously twisted behaviour on the part of the teenagers, who grow up into seriously unpleasant adults. But instead of opting for the linear style of storyline of its predecessor, the film goes for something more complicated, flitting backwards and forwards in time, from schooldays to the present day and back again. And it takes some real concentration to be sure which teenager grows into which adult: once that’s established, the whole thing is easier to follow, but it didn’t need to be that hard in the first place.
The Keeper Of Lost Causes had one serious problem and, judging from this, The Absent One has fallen into the same trap. It might be smartly made and well-acted, but it’s very predictable. And the more complex, less suspenseful storyline makes that all the more apparent. In fact, it only really comes into its own during the last half hour when the climax approaches, the various ends come together and, inevitably, Morck takes his customary savage beating.
After raising expectations for something on a par with the first one, this is a mildly disappointing sequel: not quite a pale imitation of the original, but certainly not in the same league. The third Department Q film, A Conspiracy Of Faith, has already been released in Denmark, but there’s no sign of a release date for the UK. This one has a new director, Hens Petter Moland, at the helm. Maybe that’s the kick-start it needs to stop it getting stale.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★/Movie: ★ ★ ★
Freda Cooper – Follow me on Twitter, check out my blog and listen to my podcast, Talking Pictures.
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