The stateside release of the Nordic noir Department Q Trilogy — The Keeper of Lost Causes, The Absent One, and A Conspiracy of Faith — makes for a heckuva binge-watching weekend.
Clocking in at a combined 5.5 hours, the feature film adaptations of Danish author Jussi Adler-Olsen‘s internationally bestselling novels, The Keeper of Lost Causes, The Absent One, and A Conspiracy of Faith — the first three titles in his “Department Q” series — are a binge-worthy triple header for Nordic noir movie lovers.
The three crime thrillers, marketed as the Department Q Trilogy, star multi-Bodil Awards and Robert Festival awards winner Nikolaj Lie Kaas (Follow the Money, Men & Chicken, The Killing, Angels & Demons), and Chicago International Film Festival winner Fares Fares (Tyrant, Zero Dark Thirty, East Money I & II, Maria Wern), as unlikely partners at the Copenhagen Police.
Lie Kaas plays Chief Detective Carl Mørck, a seriously surly, stubborn, and arrogant divorced dad of a teen-aged stepson and one of the best detectives on the force. Fares’ Assad, on the other hand, is a former stamp-wielding depot officer and Carl’s polar opposite: a good-natured, peaceful, and pious man who eats at the same diner every day and makes coffee that his partner finds wretched. What the two have in common are their indefatigable sense of purpose and dogged pursuit of the truth.
Department Q: The Keeper of Lost Causes (Kvinden i buret)
The Keeper of Lost Causes, which broke box office records in Denmark when it was released in 2013, opens with a police stakeout that ends horrifically. Fast forward several months, when Carl returns to work after having taken mandatory leave. Only his boss, Marcus Jacobsen (Søren Pilmark, The Heavy Water War, Kon-Tiki), informs him that he can’t go back to Homicide. Rather, Carl is reassigned to the new Department Q, where he and Assad, the latter transferred here on a trial basis, are to review unsolved cases and close a few per week… of all 20 years worth of cold cases.
Demoted in responsibility if not in title, and relegated to a desk job in a dead-end, basement department, Carl sees this stalling of his career as a slap in the face. Then one cold case catches his eye. It concerns Merete Lynggaard (Sonja Richter, The Killing, The Eagle), a rising-star politician who supposedly committed suicide five years earlier but whose body was never found. Carl suspects foul play, owing to Merete’s brother, Uffe Lynggaard (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, The Legacy, A Royal Affair), a young man with a brain disorder.
As the action weaves between Carl and Assad’s unauthorized investigation in the present day, flashbacks revealing the events leading up to Merete’s disappearance, and spoilers, the plot twists get twistier and the suspense builds right through to the edge-of-your-seat climax. (Only afterward will you realize that you’d been holding your breath.)
Multiple award winner Nikolaj Arcel (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, A Royal Affair) wrote the screenplay, and Robert Festival award winner Mikkel Nørgaard (Borgen, Klown) directed Department Q: The Keeper of Lost Causes (97 minutes, NR), which is now available for streaming or download in the US at Amazon Video, iTunes, and IFC Films VoD.
Department Q: The Absent One (Fasandræberne)
This second film in the Department Q Trilogy, directed by Nørgaard from the script by Arcel and Berlin International Film Festival winner Rasmus Heisterberg (The Royal Affair, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), broke in 2014 the box office record previously held by its predecessor.
As a result of the “miraculous” solving of the Lynggaard case, Department Q is now on the map within the Copenhagen Police. And joining Carl and Assad’s team is Rose (Johanne Louise Schmidt), the latest in a series of assistants. The trio have a stack of cold cases to go through, but a case that was actually solved and closed becomes their focus, given Carl’s insistence after an(other) unfortunate event.
The case in The Absent One revolves around a decades-old double homicide of a brother and sister, twins brutally murdered in a cabin near an elite boarding school. A junkie confessed to and was convicted for the crimes, but served just three years in prison. This suspicious detail is just the tip of the iceberg for Carl et al, who begin to suspect a conspiracy involving wealthy, influential members of Denmark’s upper echelons, including hotelier Ditlev Pram (Pilou Asbæk, Borgen, 1864).
While Carl and Assad search for the female witness who vanished days after the murders, the mentally unstable and homeless Kimmie (Danica Curcic, Nobel, The Bridge) wanders the streets of Copenhagen, having flashbacks of her boarding school days. Back then, her younger self (played by Sarah-Sofie Boussnina, Knightfall, The Bridge) was involved with the manipulative Ditlev and his violent sidekick Ulrik Dybbøl (David Dencik, Gentlemen & Gangsters, The Last Panthers). Some things haven’t changed, and others have: now Kimmie is a target.
Unlike with The Keeper of Lost Causes, the focus of The Absent One isn’t the solving of a mystery. Rather, it is about the cat-and-mouse game between the cops, the real killers, and Kimmie. And although the storyline of this psychological crime drama is less well-structured than the whodunit film that preceded it, it’s still a compelling thriller.
Department Q: A Conspiracy of Faith (Flaskepost fra P)
Written by Nikolaj Arcel and directed by multiple-awards winner Hans Petter Moland (In Order of Disappearance, A Somewhat Gentle Man), this final film of the Department Q Trilogy had the best opening box office weekend in Denmark in 15 years, when it premiered in March of this year.
A Conspiracy of Faith finds Carl Mørck battling his inner demons while he, Assad, and Rose delve into a case that wasn’t ever cold, because it didn’t exist. They only learn that a boy was held captive after his message-in-a-bottle cry for help is found washed ashore, eight years after it was written. Like a game of “Hangman,” the Department Q team fill in the blanks of the washed-out letters and determine that the boy was, and might still be, a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses… if he’s still alive.
Meanwhile, the mysterious and creepy Johannes (Amanda Awards winner Pål Sverre Hagen, Kon-Tiki, Ragnarok) visits a family of religious congregants, whose young daughter and son are abducted soon thereafter. Parents Elias (Robert Festival awards nominee Jakob Ulrik Lohmann, Dicte, The Killing) and Rakel (Amanda Collin, Splitting Up Together) don’t report their children as missing, and as it turns out, they aren’t the only ones staying silent.
Carl and Assad’s investigation into the message-in-a-bottle boy quickly turns into a race to find the kidnapper and save the lives of the most recent child abductees, while adults become victims of the psychopathic killer, as well. The question is, will Assad, a believer in a higher power, and Carl, an atheist who demeans faith as being nonsensical, be able to put their deeply-held and antithetical beliefs aside when lives are at stake?
Featuring Jakob Oftebro (Lilyhammer) and Lotte Andersen (The Killing), A Conspiracy of Faith is disturbing on many levels, given its depictions of religious fanaticism and its effects, the abuse of children, and racial intolerance. Standing in stark contrast to these is Assad, whose sense of humanity and compassion — for the victims, their parents, and his struggling, damaged partner — provides an altogether different picture, call it redeeming, of what faith can look and act like. Even Carl, in a moment of self-abandon, demonstrates that he is willing to be the sacrificial lamb in order to save others. It’s riveting stuff, this.
(A Conspiracy of Faith is not available for streaming or download in the UK at this time.)
Produced by Zentropa Entertainment, the Department Q Trilogy will be followed by a final film, this one based on The Purity of Vengeance, the fourth novel in Adler-Olsen’s series. Stay tuned for details.