Film: The Absent One

The second Department Q film adapation is The Absent One (2014). It’s another stirring advertisement for the novel series; indeed, I think I preferred the film to the book in this case, as it—like The Keeper of Lost Causes—renders its heroes more relatable, slightly mitigates the egregious bleakness of the material, and continues to strengthen the core partnership at the heart of the series.

The miraculous success of Department Q’s first major cold case has led to new resources, but also new pressures to work through and close the book on old files. Detective Carl Mørck (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), still a brooding shell of man-pain whose only coping mechanism is obsessive workaholism, finds a new motivation when he ignores the pleas of an ex-cop to pursue a particular case: the decades-old murder of a brother and sister. Mørck’s refusal to help leads to the ex-cop’s suicide, and lands a file box full of clues in his lap. Someone confessed to the murder back then, but the ex-cop smelled something fishy, and once Mørck and his partner Assad (Fares Fares) start digging around, they start to agree. A cover-up seems likely, and the key to figuring it out is a missing woman: Kimmie Lassen (played in alternate timelines by Sarah-Sofie Boussnina and Danica Curcic). Mørck is determined to find and debrief her to solve the mystery, but his prodding soon alerts a cadre of wealthy villains who are highly motivated to silence Kimmie—permanently.

The Absent One is compelling Nordic noir that improves the source material by keeping and streamlining the core narrative, while also jettisoning some of the novel’s iffy sociopolitical baggage. Be forewarned, it’s still a trigger-worthy tale full of brutality and violence against women, but the screen translation of Mørck into a more accessible hero lessens some of the book’s problematic undertones. Kaas and Fares continue to build the winning chemistry of the Mørck-Assad partnership, and their new secretary Rose (Johanne Louise Schmidt) adds a nice new dynamic to Department Q, subtly altering the mystique of the quirky department.

I’m excited to move on to the third film in the series—not to mention keep up with the books, all of which are evidently now in film development. Great stuff, likely to appeal to fans of foreign cinema and Scandinavian crime tales.

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