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REVIEW: The Keeper of Lost Causes (Mikkel Nøgaard – 2014)

Detective Carl Mørck (Nikolaj lie Kaas) is an impulsive, stubborn, antagonistic prick. After a rash decision at a stake-out results in the death of a colleague and his partner being crippled he’s relegated to ‘Department Q’; a new branch dedicated to tidying up and cataloguing cold cases. Paired up with Assad (Fares Fares), they stumble upon the case of Merete (Sonja Richter) that’s been written off as a suicide. As they get drawn into the case you realise that it’s alive, kicking and the clock is ticking.


Writer Nikolaj Arcel (who adapted The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy for the Swedish screen) does a spectacular job of creating the foundations of what could be an enduring episodic, cinematic procedural series that follows partners Carl and Assad exhuming cold cases. The format is simple, Assad splays case files all over the walls in a collage and Carl stand and starts to absorb. When Merete’s case leaps off of the wall you watch the procedural machinations until they seem to unlock more of the actual happenings for their (and our) conception. One blight against the wonderfully horrific Hannibal is definitely that the blistering momentum assures that it glides past some amazing, and surely for any other series, enduring serial killers or crazies. Arcel though is able to hone into and flesh out one individual story, with a particularly heinous adversary worthy of the time and pace of earning his capture. Arcel too is interested in showing the environment that create these dark individuals, and the more you know, the more sorry you feel for the whole dark affair.

Director Mikkel Nøgaard choreographs such great manoeuvring between the dismal cold of the landscape and the dusty bowels of the Danish police departments (the home for Department Q) and the projections of the victim’s life and events that are unlocked in each new wave of the investigation. Sitting in the metal bowels of a pressure chamber with Sonja Richter’s Merete, no clue as to her captor, faced with agonising high pitched whistle from your ear drums exploding; Nøgaard knows how to compose this scenario to full horrific effect.

It’s unfortunate that with Luther‘s John (Idris Elba), True Detective‘s Marty (Woody Harrelson) and Rust (Matthew McConaughey) and Hannibal‘s Will (Hugh Dancy) have all so recently been on screen and are still swimming through my mind. Each character individually adheres to lawmaker archetypes that have been firmly drawn in all forms of popular culture, however, they’re not content to let the archetype govern what they bring to the role. Now Neil Cross, Nic Pizzolato and Bryan Fuller are some of the best crime writers going around, so obviously the aforementioned awesome foursome have a significant advantage of great writing to guide them but Nikolaj lie Kaas’s Carl makes the poster standee for this film seem like it could be substituted in a pinch.

Fares’ Assad is the most endearing character in the piece. He’s the antidote to Carl’s petulance. Assad is grateful for the opportunity to close out these old cases, especially once it starts to become apparent that they’re not as cold as initially advertised. In one fleeting line referring to the difficulties of his migration he puts Carl in his place and the duty of their assignment into perspective. Fares’ Assad is in fact the titular Keeper of Lost Causes. Richter’s Merete suffering will have you squirming in your seat. Repeating details about her life to grasp the her increasingly slippery sanity, sensory deprivation and some ghastly DIY surgery shows her steely survival instincts.

The Keeper of Lost Causes had the format, the aesthetic, the supporting characters and the grizzly torture; unfortunately all orbiting a Thunderbird marionette.




Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.

Directed by: Mikkel Nøgaard
Written by: Nikolaj Arcel
Starring: Nikolaj lie Kaas, Fares Fares, Sonja Richter, Mikkel Bo Følsgaard, Pilmark, Troels Iyby


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  1. […] Writer Nikolaj Arcel (who adapted The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy for the Swedish screen) do… […]

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