Crime thrillers undoubtedly play a huge role in the creation of Danish culture. There is a countless list of gritty, dark, suspenseful titles that made this particular genre a trademark of sorts of both Danish literature and films. Over the course of years they've gained fame across the world as one of the most complex, compelling and violent thrillers ever, but what's more interesting is that it's still relatively easy to point out many new positions that look truly fresh and enticing.
One of the very recent additions to the crime genre is The Keeper of Lost Causes (Kvinden i buret), based on an international bestseller written by Jussi Adler-Olsen, directed by Mikkel Norgaard (Klown), and scripted by Nikolaj Arcel (the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo).
The film opens with a brief shootout that leaves inspector Carl Morck (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) badly wounded, one of his partners paralyzed, and another one dead. Guilty of imprudence while planning the dangerous operation, Morck is quickly degraded from the homicide unit to a newly created Department Q, where his only companion is a peaceful but loud music-loving Assad (Fares Fares). While the name of the department might sound mysterious and intriguing at first, it's nothing more than a job for older folks who are happily waiting for their retirement doing boring paperwork. Namely, what the guys are supposed to do is to classify and close cases from the last 20 years and later on simply forget about them. Yet, Morck's cold-bloodedness and uncontrollable willingness to act soon get the best of him.
His curiosity is aroused when he comes across a 5-year old case of a successful politician Merete (Sonja Richter), who presumably committed suicide by jumping off a ship. However, the fact that she took her younger, mentally disabled brother Uffie (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard) along for the cruise, and a lot of understatements that appear in the files, make the case all the more enigmatic and interesting.
In spite of the boss' order to stay in Department Q (actually basement of the police station) the boys soon find themselves in pursuit of truth. Though their nosiness and evident improvisation make a lot of people angry and eventually costs them their badges, they never give up and gradually connect the dots between a terrible accident from the past and Marte's sudden disappearance.
The plot's constructed from two parallel narratives, and what really happened to Merete is revealed in the first part of the picture - she's been imprisoned in a pressure tank by a psychopath, who thought might seem like a stranger is actually somehow connected to the victim. The man plays a deeply sadistic game with Merete, torturing her by increasing the pressure in the tank by one unit every year, and by making her perform some extreme operations (the tooth-pulling scene is not for the squeamish).
Although the two narratives don't follow the same timelines, the way the plot jumps between them is never confusing. What we get is a carefully prepared mixture of investigation scenes interrupted by retrospections from inside of the pressure tank.
The mystery concerning the case per se is soon outweighed by a desperate race against time. Mock needs to locate the 'cage' (the literal title - The Woman in the Cage -makes more sense) that the woman's been dying in for the last five years before it's too late.
What I found really compelling about The Keeper of Lost Causes were the unsettling atmosphere, great locations, and a remarkable contrast in tone and in color between the two narratives. Morck and Assad are mostly seen working in the open air, where environment looks rather safe even when the colors appear to be distinctly bleak. During the retrospections of Merete's imprisonment, though, you can find yourself gasping for air. The disturbingly claustrophobic place is gloomy, slimy, and oddly green-colored, and there's no notion of life whatsoever even when we observe Merete's disturbing struggle to survive with much anxiety.
What's visible is a strong relationship between the characters, even if it's not necessarily friendly. Assad is a funny, lively, helpful man who never takes things too seriously, while Morck, haunted by guilt, is edgy, unpredictable and ill mannered. They understand each other and together make for a great team, but they're not aware of that special bond that brings them closer together to a discovery that will certainly shock the whole nation.
Even though their outstanding teamwork brings us to a conclusion that is predictable, and the mystery fades away halfway through, the climax will keep you at the edge of your seat. The first and final meeting with the abductor proves to be a difficult test for Mock and his partner and an intense experience for the viewers, who will definitely keep rooting for this satisfying, albeit expected, ending.
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