Like the first episode of a finely crafted TV series you won't want to miss, this sharply involving Danish thriller introduces us to the mystery-solving duo of Department Q. A second film has been shot, and a third is in the works, and it's well worth jumping on board with this seriously complex franchise-opener, a combination of fascinating characters and a riveting story.
It opens with detective Carl (The Killing's Nikolaj Lie Kaas), who's reeling after a routine stakeout goes horribly wrong, leaving his partner dead and his best friend (Troels Lyby) paralysed in hospital. His tough-minded boss (Soren Pilmark) reassigns him to work in the basement, cleaning out the unsolved files piling up in Department Q. His new partner is the rookie Assad (Zero Dark Thirty's Fares Fares), and the first case that catches Carl's eye involves young politician Merete (Sonja Richter), who apparently leapt to her death from a ferry. But her body was never found, and Carl doesn't think she would have left her mentally impaired brother Uffe (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard) to fend for himself on the ship. When Carl and Fared start re-interviewing witnesses, they clearly strike a nerve, as their boss and the original cop (Michael Brostrup) on the case repeatedly tell them to drop it.
It's great to see a story like this given the chance to play out so cinematically, instead of being forced into a one-hour TV slot. Not only does director Mikkel Norgaard make terrific use of big-screen imagery, but the script by Nikolaj Arcel (who wrote the original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo film) is a beautifully structured blend of flashbacks and parallel timelines that build maximum tension as things come to a boil. The film is also packed with smaller scenes that offering gripping wrinkles both in the plot and in the characters' personalities. One of the most fascinating elements is Assad's patient friendship with Uffe after Carl's abrasive approach alienates him. It's just one of the details that make Kaas and Fares a terrific on-screen partnership.
The film maintains a rather gloomy Scandinavian tone, echoed both in Carl's shattered life and the horrors of a woman who has been held hostage for five years without explanation. So even though there's plenty of jagged humour and witty interaction, there's also a sense of urgency as the clock ticks. Carl and Assad have been told to stop, but they're unable to ignore the possibility that Merete might be alive. And as the clues come together the combination of expert filmmaking and terrific acting provide several scary and thrilling moments that take the breath away. It also leaves us wanting more.
Run time: 97 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 3rd October 2013
Production compaines: Zentropa Entertainments
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 67%
Fresh: 12 Rotten: 6
IMDB: 7.1 / 10
Director: Mikkel Norgaard
Producer: Peter Aalbaek Jensen, Louise Vesth
Screenwriter: Nikolaj Arcel
Starring: Nikolaj Lie Kaas as Carl Mørk, Fares Fares as Assad, Sonja Richter as Merete Lynggaard, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard as Uffe Lynggaard, Søren Pilmark as Marcus Jacobsen, Troels Lyby as Hardy, Marie Mondrup as Helle, Eric Ericson as Johan Lundquist, Marijana Jankovic as Tereza, Claes Ljungmark as Larsson
Also starring: Louise Vesth