Film Review: The Keeper of Lost Causes

Not, as the title might suggest, the story of Louis van Gaal’s seemingly already-doomed quest to raise Manchester United back into the the billionaire boys club that is the UEFA Champions League – The Keeper of Lost Causes is instead a twisting Danish crime thriller, based on the first in the best-selling ‘Department Q’ series of novels by author Jussi Adler-Olsen.

Feel free to insert your own sentence at this point, tying Mikkel Nørgaard’s movie into the ‘Nordic noir’ phenomenon of the last few years whilst at the same time namechecking The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Killing, Wallander, Headhunters and any others which pop into that pink spongy thing behind your eyeballs.

Done that? Good. Then let’s continue.

Department Q is the basement backwater where detective Carl Mørck (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) finds himself reassigned on his return to the force, following his recovery from serious injuries sustained in a stakeout gone wrong. It’s a crypt of cases that are not so much cold as positively Siberian.

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But while police bigwig Jacobson (Søren Pilmark) clearly fancies the new gig as preventing Mørck from causing mischief, the latter takes his new duties as seriously as he takes just about everything else. And sure enough, with the assistance of mismatched buddy assistant Assad (Fares Fares), the grumpy ‘tec has soon exhumed the mysterious case of Merete Lynggaard (Sonja Richter), a fast-rising young politician who vanished some years previously while on a ferry with her autistic brother, Uffe (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard).

Now, any of you out there who fancy yourself as a nay-shabby sleuth in your own right will have noticed that the synopsis just unfurled over the prior two paragraphs doesn’t exactly brim with elements never before seen on the big screen. From the world-weary cop protagonist to his belligerent boss to the unconventional sidekick to a horrendously knotted noodle of a historic crime riddle, the components which make up The Keeper of Lost Causes are individually each as gnarled as a pit bull’s chew-toy of choice.

However, Nørgaard and his collaborators (who include Dragon Tattoo screenwriter Nikolaj Arcel) successfully assemble these various saliva-sodden building blocks into a slickly effective whole which recalls The Silence of the Lambs as much as it does the current rash of Scando-thrillers. It’s a visually beautiful affair too, courtesy of cinematographer Eric Kress, albeit dark and often brutal at the same time, with a pair of pliers being pressed into their most menacing cinematic usage since Kiss Me Deadly.

Admittedly, the serial nature of the source material is sometimes a bit too self-evident, with Mørck, Assad and Jacobson feeling like they’re bedding in for an entire TV series, rather than just a movie… wait, make that two movies. Because so stellar has been the success of The Keeper of Lost Causes at its domestic box office that Nørgaard and his actors have already reunited for a sequel, The Absent One, which has been shot, cut and will be released in Denmark in October.

Lost cause? Endless resource, more like. Keep milking that cow, chaps.
The Keeper of Lost Causes is released in the UK on 22nd August

Paul Martin is a professional writer who lives in Kilburn, north London. Paul Martin is deeply disturbed by the amount of neatly trimmed beards he sees these days, that make the wearers look like Matthew Kelly or a young Kenny Loggins. Paul Martin can occasionally be spotted at @PaulFilmDoom

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