The Keeper of Lost Causes is part police procedural and part psycho-thriller. The division between the two is also the division between the crime and the detectives. While it would reductive to compare any crime film from Scandinavia to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Keeper of Lost Causes shares screenwriter Nikolaj Arcel with the earlier film so similarities are not coincidental. Both films involve investigations of cold cases, both feature imprisonment and long held grudges, as well as chilling portrayals of inhumanity. But whereas Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy featured unconventional protagonists, Jussi Adler-Olsen’s novel (the first in his Department Q series) uses the trusty (and perhaps clichéd) device of two mismatched cops, one an experienced but disgraced loose cannon, Carl Mørck (Nikolaj Lie Kaas, who bears a striking resemblance to Dominic West), the other an eager rookie very much in love with the job, Assad (Fares Fares). The different races of Carl and Assad adds to their mismatch, and an interesting feature of the film is its willingness to include institutionalised racism – Carl at first mistrusts his new partner who has only been assigned menial tasks in the police department, implicitly because of his race. Racism remains an issue that Assad must deal with and Carl’s willingness to work past his own prejudice allows for the characters and their relationship to develop.
This relationship as well as the investigation is handled in a down-to-earth, gritty manner, although DOP Eric Kress still finds beauty in the locations. Director Mikkel Nørgaard only partially succeeds in marrying the realism of the police investigation with the clichés of the genre as well as the perversity of the crime, and there is perhaps too much information made available to the viewer that the cops do not have, which removes much sense of mystery. However, the film is at its best in generating empathy for the suffering of the kidnap victim, Merete Lynggaard (Sonja Richter), whose ghastly situation is presented in a palatable and compelling way. Pleasingly, the film eschews a sexual dimension for her plight, not linking it to her gender but making it a twisted case of revenge. Equal opportunities psychos are in short supply so it is refreshing to see one who does not simply hate on women. This empathetic presentation helps to mitigate the film’s flaws, resulting in a grim and enthralling thriller that keeps its feet on the ground and its face in depravity.