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Locarno Film Review: ‘The Keeper of Lost Causes’

A slickly made though utterly predictable Danish suspenser from director Mikkel Norgaard.

With:

Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Fares Fares, Sonja Richter, Mikkel Boe Folsgaard, Soren Pilmark, Troels Lyby, Anton Honik, Magnus Millang. (Danish dialogue)

Denmark continues to milk its newly earned reputation for twisted behavior with an adaptation of the international bestselling crime thriller “The Keeper of Lost Causes.” Whether life in lower Scandinavia is as full of brutality and murder as recent novels and pics suggest, there’s no debating the global appetite for a well-crafted suspenser, and director Mikkel Norgaard delivers a slickly made though utterly predictable entry in the genre that plays like a pilot for an inevitable series about a melancholy detective investigating cold cases. Yeah, there’s already “Cold Case,” but that hasn’t stopped this one from generating brisk sales in all territories.

Boffo biz along the lines of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is unlikely, even though the producers chose scripter Nikolaj Arcel, who adapted the first of the Stieg Larsson “Millennium” titles (he also wrote and directed “A Royal Affair”). Arcel’s screenplay of Jussi Adler-Olsen’s novel “The Keeper of Lost Causes” (the more descriptive original title means “The Woman in the Cage”) is not the pic’s strongest suit, however, as details and plot strands that may have value in the novel feel summarily included here.

High-strung police detective Carl Morck (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) is a pariah on the force after a shootout leaves one partner dead and the other paralyzed, and finds himself exiled to Dept. Q, a new subdivision for quickly processing and closing cold cases. Along with an assistant, Assad (Fares Fares), he’s supposed to stay in the basement and deal with the paperwork, but the stubborn Morck is no desk cop and starts investigating the first case he’s handed.

Five years earlier, rising politician Merete Lynggaard (Sonja Richter) disappeared while on a ferry with her brain-damaged brother, Uffe (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard, “A Royal Affair”). Though her body was never found, the case was ruled a suicide. Morck sees anomalies and begins digging deeper, much to the annoyance of his commander (Soren Pilmark). Meanwhile, thanks to flashbacks and cross-cutting, auds already know what happened to Merete: She’s been kidnapped by a twisted psychopath and locked in a pressure chamber for the last half decade.

Norgaard wants to keep viewers guessing the whys and wherefores, but putting two and two together is so easy here that only the narratively challenged will be surprised by the culprit’s motivations. Suspense thus rests on the investigation, spanning Denmark and Sweden and encompassing a few tense moments, though little beyond the sort of well-wrought thrills seen on good cop shows. As with those episodic series, characters pertinent to only this film are given limited personalities and painted in broad strokes, while Morck and Assad have hinted-at depths (more with Assad would be welcome) undoubtedly waiting to be revealed in further installments.

D.p. Eric Kress is carving out a nice niche lensing crime thrillers, including the original “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” and episodes from the “Millennium” TV series, among others. By now, however, the style has become too standardized, awash in muted colors whose steeliness is meant to match the characters’ flinty exteriors as well as Denmark’s cold veneer, behind which, we’re led to believe, lurk unspeakable horrors.

Locarno Film Review: 'The Keeper of Lost Causes'

Reviewed at Locarno Film Festival (Piazza Grande), Aug. 9, 2013. Running time: 96 MIN. Original title: "Kvinden i buret"

Production:

(Denmark-Germany-Sweden) A Zentropa Entertainments20, Zentropa Entertainments Berlin, Zentropa Intl. Sweden production, in association with TV2 Denmark, ZDF. (International sales: TrustNordisk, Hvidovre, Denmark.) Produced by Louise Vesth, Peter Aalbaek Jensen. Corproducers, Jonas Bagger, Maria Koepf, Madeleine Ekman. Executive producer, Marie Gade.

Crew:

Directed by Mikkel Norgaard. Screenplay, Nikolaj Arcel,  based on the novel by Jussi Adler-Olsen. Camera (color), Eric Kress; editors, Morten Egholm, Martin Schade; music, Patrik Andren, Uno Helmersson, Johan Soederqvist; production designer, Rasmus Thjellesen; costume designer, Stine Thaning; sound (5.1 mix), Hans Moller; line producers, Marianne Jul Hansen, Karen Bentzon; casting, Rie Hedegaard, Anja Philip.

With:

Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Fares Fares, Sonja Richter, Mikkel Boe Folsgaard, Soren Pilmark, Troels Lyby, Anton Honik, Magnus Millang. (Danish dialogue)

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