A meaty, fascinating story is splintered into three plot strands that battle for the viewer's attention, so while the film is never boring, it's also oddly uninvolving. Fortunately, it has an excellent cast and is shot with skill and a relentless intensity to feel like a big, epic-style dramatic thriller with heavy political overtones.
After a scene-setting prologue, the story starts in 1953 Moscow, where Leo (Tom Hardy) is a war hero now working in the military police, purging the city of its spies. Or at least its suspected spies. In the Soviet socialist utopia, crime officially doesn't exist, but Leo finds it difficult to tell his best pal Alexei (Fares Fares) that his 8-year-old son was killed in a train accident when he was so clearly tortured and murdered. Ordered by his boss (Vincent Cassel) to let it go, and menaced by his rival colleague Vasili (Joel Kinnaman), Leo continues investigating, resulting in a reprimand that sees Leo and his wife Raisa (Noomi Rapace) relocated to the the grim industrial city of Volsk. But when another young boy's body appears here, Leo gets his new boss (Gary Oldman) to see the connection.
There are at least three main plots in this film, and the filmmakers oddly never allow one to become the central strand. There's the mystery involving this brutal, unhinged serial killer (Paddy Considine) stalking boys along the railway. There's the thriller about Leo being brutally taunted by Vasili, who has a thing for Raisa and is trying to crush them for good. But the only emotionally engaging strand is Leo and Raisa's complex marriage relationship, which takes a couple of unexpected turns. Along the way, there are several action sequences shot with shaky cameras and edited so they're impossible to follow. And there's a sense that the film also wants to be a grandiose Russian epic with its expansive cinematography and big orchestral score.
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From Denmark, this morally complex drama is urgent and provocative even if the story is full of lapses that make it feel oddly implausible. It's a reteaming of director Susanne Bier and screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen, whose breakout 2004 film Brothers (remade in 2009 with Jake Gyllenhaal and Tobey Maguire) had similar problems: a high-concept premise that makes the dilemma more important than plot coherence.
Game of Thrones star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau returns home to Denmark to star in the film. He plays Andreas, a detective who is horrified when he and his partner Simon (Ulrich Thomsen) find badly neglected infant Sofus in the home of lowlife ex-con Tristan (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) and his junkie girlfriend Sanne (Lykke May Anderson). But there's no legal way to remove the baby from his parents. This hits Andreas especially hard since his son Alexander is the same age and his wife Anna (Maria Bonnevie) is struggling emotionally with motherhood. Then Alexander dies unexpectedly and Andreas hatches a plan: he swaps the dead Alexander for the abused Sofus. Obviously both of the mothers notice this immediately, but Anna accepts it and no one will listen to Sanne's outcry. And Tristan is preoccupied with trying to cover up what he thinks is his son's death.
Bier and Jensen work diligently to set up this premise, with details that try to address each aspect of the story, but it simply never holds water. For example, we never believe that Andreas' action is something any caring husband would do, especially one who works for the police. Or that Anna and Simon would go along with it. So as the story becomes increasingly entangled, everything begins to feel like it's heading for the only conclusion possible. Thankfully, Bier and Jensen are skilled enough to make all of this compelling, challenging the audience to confront each decision the characters make and consider the moral repercussions of everything they do.
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During the Second World War, many Russian men were able to make a name for themselves as heroes. Returning home to their victorious country, many discovered that the Communist utopia they had fought to defend may have been more fictitious than they originally thought. For Leo Demidov (Tom Hardy), this truth comes harshly. Having become a hero for his efforts in the war against Germany, Demidov is given the job as a secret policeman. But when he comes across the case of a potential serial killer that hunts children, his superiors refuse to acknowledge the crime, maintaining that they live in a perfect world. After being exiled from Moscow for refusing to drop the case, Demidov must search for the real truth behind the killings, despite knowing that the truth could be dangerous.
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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.
Continue reading: The Keeper of Lost Causes Review
Carl Morck is a police detective who is forced to work in Department Q after an incident during a routine practise. Department Q is where they keep the files for years old cold cases and he and his partner Assad must band together to solve some of the police department's biggest unsolved mysteries. They are looking at the case of missing politician Merete Lynggaard who disappeared without a trace five years ago; the chances of them solving the case and finding Lynggaard alive or dead are looking slim, but little do they realise just how dark this case will get as snippets of the truth begin to leak out.
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