Having read all four of Jussi Adler-Olson’s Department Q novels, I was keen to see how the first one, Mercy, would translate to the big screen. Renamed The Keeper of Lost Causes, the film follows the book very closely and successfully manages to negotiate the tricky path of having to deal with two parallel narratives interspersed with lots of flashback.
The opening scene is moody and tense. It drops the audience right in the middle of a story, and we’re not sure why we’re there. The scene ends abruptly with gunfire and before we’ve had time to work out what it’s all about, we’re transported to police headquarters to meet our main characters.
Sidelined by his department due to his involvement in the above shootout which led to the death of one colleague and the paralysis of another, Detective Carl Morck, played convincingly by Nikolaj Lie Kaas (The Killing), is sent to work in the basement of police headquarters. It’s dark, it’s gloomy and it matches Morck’s character perfectly. Here he has been given the thankless task of classifying a pile of cold cases, aided by an assistant, Assad (Fares Fares).
However, Morck doesn’t file the cases away. Instead, he and Assad set out to solve them. And the first one they choose is that of a missing politician, Merete, who the police believe committed suicide five years ago by throwing herself off a ferry. However, Morck and Assad aren’t convinced. Why would she leave her mentally disabled brother on board when she knew he wouldn’t be able to cope without her? They set out to uncover the truth.
As with the book, the audience is told early on that Merete isn’t dead. This enables us to watch another layer to the story unravel. We follow Merete’s five-year ordeal of being held captive in a pressurised chamber. Her abductor talks to her occasionally but neither she nor we know who it is. And time is running out for Merete: every year her abductor turns up the pressure one notch until eventually it will kill her. So for the audience, this becomes a race against time as we sit on the edge of our seats urging Morck and Assad get to Merete before it’s too late.
What I love about the series of books is that they offer us much more than just one storyline. There’s always one case that Morck and Assad have to solve, but at the same time in each book, we are given more clues about the initial shooting that Mock was involved in. We also learn that there is more to Assad than meets the eye and we’re keen to discover what his mysterious past is all about. I hope that the producers will continue to adapt all of the Department Q books so we can continue to watch the stories play out on the big screen.
It’s not a showstopper, but it’s a strong story, which has succeeded in its transformation to the big screen. The excellent plotline has been handled brilliantly by the scriptwriters and the casting of Morck is a revelation. As with most Scandi dramas, the film captures the mood of this dark story effectively by giving us stark, colourless landscapes.. Even though I knew who the abductor was, it didn’t make the story any less convincing.
Rating: 4 ½/5