Title: The Absent One
Director: Mikkel Norgaard
Major Players: Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Fares Fares, Danica Curcic
Out Of Five: 3
While BBC Four dabbles in an economic thriller in what’s usually its Scandi noir slot, you can stave off those withdrawal pangs by going in search of a cinema showing The Absent One. Coincidentally, it also stars Nikolaj Lie Kaas, this time in his more familiar, unkempt persona of cold case detective Carl Morck.
This is the follow up to The Keeper Of Lost Causes (2014), the first in the Department Q detective series, about the cold case department of the Copenhagen Police. It’s essentially down to two cops, Morck and Syrian-born Assad (Fares Fares), although since the first film they’ve acquired a resourceful secretary, Rose (Johanne Louise Schmidt). They need one because some time has passed since the success of their first case and their reputation is heading rapidly downhill. Until, that is, Morck is approached by a former cop whose twin children were brutally murdered 20 years ago. The files show a conviction was made, but there’s something too neat about the way it was sewn up, so Morck and Assad investigate, following an increasingly murky trail leading to an elite boarding school and some powerful public figures, including one in the police department itself.
And, yes, there are plenty of similarities with The Keeper of Lost Causes, and it moves the story and the characters on as well. That new secretary is one of a long line: Assad, ever the practical diplomat, insists that they need one but Morck’s behaviour is so difficult that all the others have come and gone in quick succession. He can’t even muster the occasional thank you, let alone a smile. We see a bit more of the wreckage that’s his personal life: his teenage son has come to stay, not that his father takes much notice and manages to let him down, not for the first time. And Morck himself? Well, he still chain smokes, glugs copious quantities of alcohol, pursues his quarry with a relentlessness that borders on obsession and never, ever cracks a smile. But here we start to see a glimmer of humanity. The key to the case is Kimmie (Danica Curcic), the now homeless witness to the murder all those years ago, and unusually, she kindles a spark of compassion in him.
It’s just as dark and shadowy as its predecessor, with some seriously twisted behaviour on the part of the teenagers involved: needless to say, they grow into equally unpleasant adults. But this time the storyline attempts to do something more complicated, flitting backwards and forwards from schooldays to the present day. It takes some real concentration to be sure which teenager grows up into which adult – initially it’s downright confusing – and you have to work to keep up with it. It doesn’t need to be that hard!
It shares one other thing with the original. It’s predictable. In The Keeper Of Lost Causes, it wasn’t so much of an issue because of the stronger, linear story. This time round, the more complex and less suspenseful plot added to that predictability undermines the intended impact. It’s not a pale imitation of the first film, but it’s certainly not in the same league and that makes it mildly disappointing. A third film in the series, A Conspiracy Of Faith, is on its way, although there’s no release date set so far for the UK. It also has a new director at the helm. Perhaps that will give the series the shot in the arm it so clearly needs.
The Absent One is released in selected cinemas on Friday, 8 April and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 7 April.