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Absent One, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Department Q is quality crime."
4 stars

SCREENED AT FANTASTIC FEST 2014: I swear I've heard of the Department Q books from somewhere, even though I haven't really been keeping up on detective fiction as much as I'd like. If they're going to keep cranking out movies this good in adapting them, I hope they make it over here as well as the "Dragon Tattoo" series briefly did. This second movie based on the series is a nifty, intense little thriller.

Department Q is a desk in the Copenhagen police department manned by two people, Carl (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) and Assad (Fares Fares), that investigates cold cases. The one they had just been dropped on their desk is a doozy, a cop's kid who was murdered twenty years ago, with the dead girl's father always thinking that some of the evidence used to put the now-released Bjarne Thøgersen (Kristian Høgh Jeppesen) away as a juvenile didn't add up. As Carl and Assad reopen the investigation, they find the investigation leading in two very different directions - one toward rich and powerful Ditlev Pram (Pilou Asbæk) & Ulrik Dybbøl (David Dencik), the other toward homeless Kimmie Lassen (Danica Curcic).

It is kind of a familiar sort of detective story set-up - the too-intense sleuth with the partner who grounds him, the case that leads into decadence among the elite going all the way back to boarding school, the finale that, let's face it, involves a lot of things that would get these guys fired from the police force. The script by Nikolaj Arcel & Rasmus Heisterberg (adapted from Jussi Adler-Olsen's novel) is not exactly a mystery story much of the time - while Carl & Assad do have to do some digging to figure out what happened, it's laid out fairly clearly for the audience, enough that the wave of details and subplots is appreciated for more than just filling time.

It's got folks involved who are pretty good at it, though. Director Mikkel Nørgaard may be best known in the U.S. for directing Klovn, but he directed the previous Department Q film (The Keeper of Lost Causes), so it's not surprising that he and the crew seem to work like a well-oiled machine here. There's a dark, slick, but not dismal look and atmosphere, and we jump between the story's three or four threads with confidence. Nørgaard also stages a final action piece that is enjoyably crazy while still fitting in with the generally serious tone of the film.

The cast is fairly strong, although the two halves can have a tendency to work against each other in movies like this: Pilou Asbæk and David Dencik are the ones who, as the suspects and folks who are somehow involved or affected by the dark goings-on, are interesting if occasionally off-putting characters, but they've got to hold back a little in order to build some suspense. Meanwhile Nikolaj Lie Kaas and Fares Fares as the cops are kind of static - Kaas does intensity nicely and Fares is a comfortable partner, but there's a limit to the tumult that can follow them in an ongoing series like this.

Fortunately, there's a secondary protagonist in Danica Curcic's Kimmie who is downright fascinating and haunting. Kimmmie's the sort of character that often exists at the periphery of this sort of thriller - living a life outside of most filmmaker's experiences and often serving the plot best as an object to be found rather than an active character. We get to spend time with her, though, and Curcic is excellent in the role, putting across just how haunted she is and making her further descent quite believable, especially when paired with Katrine Rosenthal's Tine, another woman in the same situation but who comes at it from a very different angle.

While this is the second of a series, it's the first I've seen, and quite good seen in that context. Seeing them as part of a progression or as adaptations of popular books is likely a different experience, and I'm hoping to get a chance to see next year - this, "Keeper", and an in-production third movie have been picked up for distribution, and hopefully they'll get the same sort of rapid release the "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" movies did. This one is quite a fine thriller, so it doesn't seem like too much to hope that the whole series is on the same level.

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originally posted: 12/06/14 14:55:36
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