Bustling Antwerp and backwoods Albania are the twin stages of tragedy in “Dossier K.,” Belgian helmer Jan Verheyen’s stylish Euro thriller set in the highly coded milieu of the Albanian underworld. Reuniting the two buddy cops from Erik Van Looy’s “Memory of a Killer” (aka “The Alzheimer Affair”), also based on a Jef Geeraerts novel, this sequel of sorts lacks the imposing presence of “Memory” thesp Jan Decleir, but is an otherwise solidly made and engaging piece of entertainment. Pic has topped the local B.O. charts since its Dec. 9 release and will again interest international genre specialists.
After the Alzheimer-plagued, morally compromised hitman in “Memory of a Killer,” this time, Antwerp cops Vincke (Koen De Bauw) and Verstuyft (Werner De Smedt) face a younger antagonist with significantly less screen time. This makes it harder for auds to fully consider the reasoning behind the criminal’s actions, which was one of the strong suits of “Memory.”
The powerful opening cuts between a wolf hunter in the Albanian mountains (credibly repped by the Spanish Pyrenees) and an assassination in the port of Antwerp of a middleman with a fake Italian passport. The identities of the hunter and the murdered man aren’t initially revealed, but the two are already visually connected by the nimble work of editor Philippe Ravoet.
Vincke and Verstuyft investigate the case of the Antwerp victim, and the trail quickly leads to the local Albanian mafia. However, the burly local Albanian clan leader (R. Kan Albay, terrific), denies knowing the dead man.
Like Steven Knight’s screenplay for “Eastern Promises,” which centered on a Russian web of crime in London, “Dossier K.” derives much of its atmosphere — and several clever plot points — from an underworld that is part clan-based, part steeped in the traditions of a foreign culture. The rural Albanians’ respect for their book of laws and honor, the Kanun, plays a special role here, and is timely: Its resurgence in the post-communist era is the subject of this year’s Albanian foreign-language Oscar submission “Alive!”
As in “Memory of a Killer,” street cops Vincke and Verstuyft provide not only collegial banter but also have to butt heads with their unhelpful colleagues on the Belgian judiciary police, including Filip Peeters and Jappe Claes, with Claes especially impressive as the oily prosecutor.
Verheyen and his co-screenwriters Erik Van Looy (who directed “Memory”) and “Memory” scribe Carl Joos make sure the shootouts feel dangerously real. When one of Vincke and Verstuyft’s colleagues, and a potential love interest, is caught in the line of fire, the pic becomes unexpectedly moving and refreshingly sober about the day-to-day risks of police work.
Acting is strong across the board, and tech package topnotch, with Frank van den Eeden’s twitchy widescreen lensing and the menacing score providing an edge-of-your-seat feel.