The Absent One
This confident Nordic noir starring Nikolaj Lie Kaas returns us to Department Q
Following 2013’s clunkily titled The Keeper of Lost Causes (a smash in its native Denmark, released here with comparatively little fanfare in 2014), The Absent One is the second film in the Department Q franchise, adapted from Jussi Adler-Olsen’s crime fiction bestsellers. Surpassing its popular predecessor at the Danish box office, it marks a step up in quality and in its ability to convince as a stand-alone work. Those who like their Nordic noir grim of content and glossy of presentation will also no doubt relish the opportunity to see the traditions of the genre splashed across the big screen.
Director Mikkel Nørgaard returns us to the two-man cold case unit, stashed away in a basement and comprising curmudgeon Carl Mørck (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) and his charming partner Assad (Fares Fares). Their slate of unsolved crimes is put on the backburner when Mørck is given a compelling reason to revisit a case deemed closed. The pair dig into the murder of two teenage siblings near a prestigious boarding school, with a missing person called Kimmie (played by Sarah-Sofie Boussnina as a youth, later Danica Curcic) providing the key. In a casting coup, breakout stars Pilou Asbæk (Lucy, A Hijacking) and David Dencik (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) are the focus of the investigation.
It’s odd that the series continues to keep the personal lives of its detectives at bay, particularly given this film’s substantial runtime and the fact that televisual peers like The Bridge have so potently intertwined the personal and professional. And, by choosing to unmask its culprits early on, there are few, if any, surprises. Nonetheless, the story is satisfyingly scathing when it comes to its critique of elite educational institutions, illustrating how a privileged upbringing dictates not only your future bank balance, but what you can get away with as both a child and an adult.
As the film flips back and forth through time, the heady days of being romanced by a teenage psychopath are imbued with a knife-twisting nostalgia by cinematographer Eric Kress. Meanwhile, Mørck’s concern for Kimmie is tenderly relayed and the climatic empowerment of this abused woman (the depiction of whom owes a heavy debt to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) has the intended impact, while the performances are strong across the board. Finding a certain majesty in the murk, The Absent One is unashamedly derivative but remains a class act regardless.
Limited release from Fri 8 Apr.