From Borgen director Mikkel Nørgaard comes The Absent One, a lacklustre and cliché-ridden follow-up to 2013’s Danish crime thriller The Keeper of Lost Causes which suggests that the trend for Scandinavian noir might have exhausted itself. Adapted from a novel by Jussi Adler-Olsen, the film tells the story of an investigation into a forgotten double homicide of a twin brother and sister in a country cottage. When the father of the murdered children commits suicide, he leaves the old case in the hands of Carl Mørck, played with Hamlet-like melancholy by Nikolaj Lie Kaas.
Carl is the lead detective of Department Q, a crime busting outfit that has fallen on lean times: a fellow policeman characterizes it as “the drunk and the Arab”. The latter stands for trusty partner Assad (Fares Fares), who helps Carl as he begins to unpick the twenty-year-old case with the help of the “loony box”, the case of old files which the father, an ex-policeman, left behind. Photographs and press clippings are stuck on a brick wall to form the kind of bricolage palimpsest so beloved of TV detectives. A story begins to emerge and told in flashback of a rebellious young girl Kimmy (Sarah-Sofie Boussnina) who finds herself ensconced in an elite boarding school and, bored out of her mind, forms an edgy romance with a boy who has similarly rebellious and violent to psychopathic tendencies, Ditlev (Marco Ilsø).
Ditlev has since grown into an incredibly rich tycoon and is played as an adult by Pilou Asbæk, most recently seen in Tobias Linholm’s A War. Ditlev is something of a thug despite the IKEA furnishings and a passing resemblance to Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp and when he isn’t running the family’s hotel chain, he and his elite chums gather at his friend’s hunting lodge and go after rare animals. The performances are fine across the board and Nørgaard keeps things moving efficiently, but this is stylish but televisual fare, ram-packed with familiar hardboiled and shopworn tropes: despite the smoking ban, everyone smokes pretty much everywhere and characters have a penchant for introspective showers.
In this universe, people can escape jails and transport themselves from one place to the other through the magical power of plot convenience and relationships exist only to lend the principals depth – a cat is bought, an estranged son lurks. A key witness, Kimmy (Danica Curcic) reappears as an adult, a mentally disturbed homeless woman whose debilitating problems abate notably when the film needs her to be a bit more like Lisbeth Salander. The plot continues along to a comfortingly familiar conclusion, reminiscent of an episode of Inspector Morse, supported by Werther’s Originals.
John Bleasdale | @drjonty