The first feature to deal with the still-unsolved murder of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme, “The Last Contract” is a tight and mostly plausible thriller helmed by Kjell Sundvall, who made local B.O. success “The Hunters” two years ago. Home-soil box office for his new pic looks set to be very good.
The controversial Palme was gunned down from behind while walking through central Stockholm with his wife late one February night in 1986. Over the years, the slaying has been attributed to everyone and everything from a lone gunman, South African agents, Turkish guerrillas and Swedish police officers to members of the local financial community and an international conspiracy.
Book on which pic is based is a novel by the pseudonymous “John W. Grow.” Filmmakers claim they don’t know who he or she is, but that the writer must be someone with a thorough knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the killing and its aftermath. (One candidate who’s been speculated in print is bestselling novelist Jan Guillou, author of the recent international thriller “Hamilton.”)
The script, however, differs much from the novel, especially at the end: Grow clearly points the finger at a thinly disguised leader of the Swedish business community as the man behind the murder, whereas the film is much more vague.
Pic starts with a young police officer, Roger (Mikael Persbrandt), on the verge of a breakdown. His colleague and friend Bo (Reine Brynolfsson) is ordered to find out what’s troubling him, and in a remote summerhouse, clearly watched by unseen strangers, Roger tells how he came to believe someone was plotting to murder the prime minister and how he came close to preventing the crime.
Film then flashes back to how the conspiracy was set in motion, and, in true thriller fashion, Sundvall takes us to different parts of the world to meet the conspirators. The actual killer (Michael Kitchen), who lives in Malta and is first shown carrying out a hit on a black politician in South Africa, travels to Sweden, starts the long job of finding the right time and place for the slaying, and contacts several criminals to be used as scapegoats.
When the police find out the killer, who is wanted by Interpol, has entered the country, Roger is given a routine mission to find him. After concluding the prime minister’s life may be in danger, Roger is abruptly taken off the case but starts to investigate on his own as the body count mounts.
Though the outcome is known, the movie is genuinely exciting and suspenseful, in the same manner as “The Day of the Jackal.” During the opening credits, Sundvall sets up the basic plot by cutting between TV newsreels of Palme’s most famous and controversial speeches, and rich men who are obviously displeased with what they hear. Tempo is rapid but not exhausting — even though a couple of the short visits to other countries could have been cut — not the least thanks to the fine perfs by Persbrandt, Brynolfsson and, as Roger’s progressively estranged wife, Pernilla August. English thesp Kitchen is also good as the ice-cold, methodical killer.
Special kudos to lenser Kjell Lagerroos, whose widescreen images are atmospheric and menacing, especially in the final half-hour. Score by Norwegian composers Geir Bohren and Bent Aserud has a big Hollywood feel to it.