Dark, violent and convoluted, “Low Winter Sun” is a gory cut below the finer BBC crime dramas — a muddled mystery whose biggest asset is the coiled, brooding presence of Mark Strong, so good in the much better “The Long Firm.” As a general rule the bar should be set pretty high on tales of police corruption, and despite strong moments, this gritty yarn doesn’t come close to clearing it, though it’s liberal foul language, buckets of blood and fleeting nudity should result in a U.S. version more amended than most from the U.K. cut.
In the opening scene, Strong’s Detective Frank Agnew and colleague Joe Geddes (Brian McCardie) mete out brutal vengeance against another cop, Brendan McCann (Robert Wilcox), who Geddes says killed Agnew’s missing girlfriend. No sooner have they dumped the body, however, than strange clues start popping up, triggering a larger investigation and causing Agnew to doubt whether he’s been manipulated to serve larger, more nefarious ends.
In short order, the search yields a headless corpse, walls drenched in blood, a mysterious phone call, and lots of closed-circuit footage of a striking woman that suggests Agnew might not have known his AWOL lover as well as he thought.
Written by Simon Donald (“Beautiful Creatures”) and directed by Adrian Shergold, the movie casts Agnew as a man blinded by his new-found love, though even then it’s hard to imagine this hard-boiled detective being so easily drawn in other than as a device to get the story rolling. As for the cops-and-robbers aspect, the other investigators are a bit of an ill-defined blur, as they chase after a resolution unaware that the culprits sit squarely in their midst.
“Low Winter Sun” does yield a few surprises, plenty of carnage and further proof that there’s really no good place to hide a human head. Still, given the standards established by the many first-rate BBC dramas to reach U.S. shores, this murky import ultimately yields as little light as its name.