The Absent One (Danish: Fasandræberne, 2014) is the most recent in the successful Danish-made series by director Mikkel Nørgaard which started with The Keeper of Lost Causes (Danish: Kvinden i buret, 2013) but works well enough for the uninitiated as a standalone film. Originally based on the works of Jussi Adler-Olsen, the story follows detectives Carl Mørck (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) and his partner Assad (Fares Fares), who are compelled to reinvestigate a cold case from the nineties after the father of the victims pleads for help, and then promptly commits suicide. From there the film expands and reveals that the conspiracy goes much deeper, and involves very influential people.
Having been co-written by The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Swedish: Män som hatar kvinnor, 2009) screenwriter Nikolaj Arcel, the film definitely has that Scandinavian edge and is in the same league with Dragon Tattoo or Wallender. Yet it is not so much a ‘whodunit’ mystery, rather how it happened, as the cartoony villains become quite evident early on. Thankfully the pacing keeps the action constant and interesting. Overall the film is extremely well made, the cinematography is sharp and the dark Danish landscape adds to the cold and daunting atmosphere. There is also a graphic and sexual element to the film, not too overdone, but not for those with soft sensibilities.
Of the detective duo, Assad as the objective balancing force is the most relatable and most realistic compared to the overly sentimental and tortured Carl, whose believability is sometimes on the opposite side of the spectrum. Kimmie is the most transformative character, and secures a great performance by Sarah-Sofie Boussnina as the young manipulative school-girl, however Danica Curcic’s present-day rendition of Kimmie is not so convincing.
Nevertheless, any lack of depth or inconsistencies of the characters is not likely the fault of the actors, but more the writing or its process to screen, of which seems to just want to tick the boxes of crime drama staples. Actually expect to smirk at certain points by the some of its absurdity; whether from unnecessary borrowing of motifs from other crime-based films such as Chinatown and A Clockwork Orange, to the blatant plot contrivances that leave much to be desired. The real mystery is whether the story in The Absent One wants to be taken seriously or not.
Not to deter likely viewers, The Absent One is highly watchable and oozes production quality, from the visuals, to the quick and effective pacing and the performances. If only the scripting had more guts and originality to add to the genre, it could have been something much more.