The tropes of the grizzled detective drama just don’t get old, do they? As the ongoing proliferation of Scandinavian crime thrillers shows, audiences just aren’t tired of browbeaten alcoholic cops struggling against their demons to crack that elusive case. The Keeper of Lost Causes (Kvinden i buret in its native Danish), adapted from Jussi Adler-Olsen’s novel, features another one. And you know what? It still works.
That cop is Carl, played by Nikolaj Lie Kaas, a curmudgeonly detective whose decision in the opening scene of the film causes him to lose his detective’s badge and be consigned to the police station’s basement, where he’ll be tasked with closing and filing old cases. A lot of old cases. There he meets his new partner Assad (Fares Fares), who is well meaning and good natured. Naturally, they clash.
Carl’s job is supposed to entail simply tieing up and filing the cases, but his attention is drawn to the mysterious suicide case of a politician, Merete (Sonja Richter), which he believes was never adequately closed. He’s right, of course; there’s something amiss, and he and Assad get drawn deeper and deeper into finding out what happened, while their bosses aren’t best please with what they’re up to.
Kaas and Fares prove a likeable and believable pair of leads. The film is pretty dark for most of its runtime, but the two of them have an endearing odd couple act which works nicely. Nor does Carl’s drinking and unbelievably surly attitude – Assad points out about half way through that he’s never seen him smile – ever fall over into charicature. It’s in the performances of the two leads that the film really shines. The mystery itself is well staged and involving, but feels a little more run of the mill – more reminiscent of previous entries in the genre.
The film is directed by Mikkel Norgaard, who has worked on the Borgen TV series, but it’s pleasantly cinematic and avoids feeling like an extended TV special. A mention, too, for the soundtrack, which is effectively understated and adds weight to the plot.
There’s a gag in here about ex-cops writing crime novels – a playful nod to the explosion of interest in the genre, particularly stories of Scandinavian origin, though this author actually wasn’t a police officer. Norgaard’s adaptation brings to life the latest in a long line of embattled detectives with confidence and efficiency. There are one or two eleme nts that don’t quite work – in particular some of the flashback scenes, and the rushed ending – but overall it’s another compelling Nordic mystery to unravel.