Having never read a word of one of America’s most prolific writers, James Patterson, I looked forward to seeing this adaption (novel cowriter Liza Marklund also contributed to the screenplay along with Tove Alsterdal, Ellen Furman, Andrew Stern and Tina Stivicic). With so many narrative chefs it is a credit to all that the production maintains reasonable coherence. Director Danis Tanović manages to glue everything together with able assistance from the shot-rich images of director of photography Salvatore Totino and the deft editing of Sean Barton.
This gruesome thriller centres around serial murders all across Europe. The modus operandi seldom changes: a few days before the grisly acts, a postcard arrives on the desk of a journalist in the city of the butcherings (the one-line message themes feature pain, death and love). A newly married couple is then discovered dead and dismembered—not all of their body parts remain on scene. The bodies are purposely “staged” to reflect one of several classic works of art, e.g., Caravaggio’s The Incredulity of St. Thomas. There is also an apparent schedule, allowing the next atrocity to be predicted—if only the cops knew who the targets might be.
As the film opens, an ex-cop is brought to the morgue in order to confirm the identity of his comely daughter and newly minted husband. Jeffrey Dean Morgan does a fine job as the grieving dad, Jacob Kanon, who more than seeking justice wants to “bring her home” (the missing body parts). Any parent can only weep along with him. Ex-wife Valerie (Famke Janssen) arrives from the U.S. to grieve her loved one before finding the ways and means of helping the investigation (leading to one of the few plot flaws when she breaks into a mansion without an “Alarm Force” siren blasting away—the insurance company would have insisted).
And so the plot twists and red herrings begin (it seems likely viewers will meet the perpetrator before law enforcement ever does—Dylan Devonald Smith revels as the tattooed Dutchman along with his, apparent, partner in crime, tattoo artist Nienke—played by Sallie Harmsen). An ex-pat American journalist, Cush Jumbo, (certainty believable as Dessie Lombard) eventually befriends Jacob before writing the “human interest” article of her life, and possibly her death when it’s published. With the London police refusing to share evidence with an ex-cop, it falls to almost-retired German Inspector Bublitz to have another cigarette, look the other way and assist his distraught colleague. (Joachim Król delivers the most consistent acting of the lot.)
But it’s soon obvious, as more and more lies/diversions are revealed, that it is a brother and sister, on a whirlwind tour of Europe (paying cash only and collecting all manner of receipts to “prove” where they’ve been…) that may well hold the key to this ingenious puzzle. Naomi Battrick steals every scene she’s in (notably the interrogation) as Sylvia, while Ruairi O’Connor offers welcome eye candy and a readily believable motive, having suffered an insufferable childhood at the hands of his, now, incarcerated father (Denis O’Hare’s brief appearance is powerful and illuminating).
Alongside the visual art, music also plays an important role. Simon Lacey’s widely ranging original score (from searing cellos to brooding percussion) is marvellously complemented by “Casta Diva” from Bellini’s Norma (soprano Marina Mescheriakova is superb)—memory lane for Jacob spilling over into the next sequence.
Fortunately, the bloodiest moments are handled—like the art—with discretion, while still making their points. And as the curtain falls (ironically not the Iron Curtain rising) there’s an important message: If we could all tell more truth and be kinder to each other, the world would be a much better place. JWR