It seems churlish to criticise a film for what it isn’t, but it is undeniable that recent feature-length crime dramas pale in comparison to the incredible depth and scope afforded to series like The Killing and The Bridge. Since becoming accustomed to those dramas, films such as Baltasar Kormákur’s Jar City and Mikkel Nørgaard’s The Keeper of Lost Causes can’t help but feel rushed and lightweight in comparison. The same sensation also riddles The Absent One, Nørgaard’s second film based on the ‘Department Q’ novels of Jussi Adler-Olsen.
The film follows Carl Mørck (The Killing alumnus Nikolaj Lie Kaas) and Assad (Fares Fares) as an odd-couple pair of detectives tasked with working their way through cold cases. After an ex-cop accosts Mørck with demands to look into the twenty year-old unsolved murder of his teenage children, the duo become embroiled in a conspiracy involving two powerful business executives and a homeless woman with deep-rooted links to the pair.
Like The Keeper of Lost Causes, The Absent One is a brisk, brutal thriller. With the working relationship between the hard-drinking, self-destructive Mørck, and cheery, albeit potty-mouthed, Muslim Assad already established, little time is lost diving into the action. Any mystery element is soon discarded in favour of a cat-and-mouse chase between the investigators and the almost comically evil culprits, who believe their wealth and power keeps them out of reach.
There is certainly enough to keep a casual viewer entertained, even taking into account the clichéd setup. Mørck especially is a character straight out of the Cracker mould. Simultaneously an alcohol-sodden misanthrope with a disintegrating home-life, and a maverick with terrier-like tenacity and unshakable believe in justice; he is nevertheless played with the utmost pouty conviction by Kaas. Rising Danish star Pilou Asbæk (Borgen, A Hijacking) also does enough that his standard devilish corporate demagogue is still fairly grounded in reality.
The script by Nikolaj Arcel, director of superlative period piece A Royal Affair, and Rasmus Heisterberg, blends present and flashback seamlessly, and there is not a moment of lag, which goes a long way to correcting any sense of being short-changed by any deficiencies in the story. The cinematography by Eric Kress is stark and pervasively gloomy like much Scandinavian drama, and Nørgaard’s refusal to pan away as a body impacts on concrete and a luckless goon takes a lump hammer to the skull is admirably nasty, although this has the potential to turn off some viewers who would otherwise eat up another slick, undemanding detective thriller.
If you find your appetite for Scandi-noir to be utterly insatiable, then The Absent One will do as a quick morsel while awaiting the main course of the next series of The Bridge. It wont be utterly filling, but it’s a perfectly acceptable snack.