By ROCCO THOMPSON
Starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Famke Janssen, Cush Jumbo
Directed by Danis Tanovic
Written by Tove Alsterdal, Ellen Brown Furman
It’s Scandi déjà vu all over again in Danis Tanovic’s THE POSTCARD KILLINGS, out now from VVS Films. Based on a 2010 novel–The Postcard Killers by Liza Marklund and James Patterson–this tale of family trauma and serial murder set against an old-world European backdrop is a sub-Larssonian latecomer to a party long since ended.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Watchmen, The Walking Dead) stars as Jacob Kanon, a New York detective whose daughter and son-in-law are murdered while in London on their honeymoon. The killing is the latest in a rash of them across Europe in which married couples are targeted, their remains posed in grotesque tableau…minus a few body parts. The only clues as to who might behind the crimes are postcards received by seemingly random journalists announcing the murderer’s arrival in each city. Compelled by his ex-wife (Famke Janssen) to track down the maniac responsible for their daughter’s death, Kanon tracks the killer from Munich to Stockholm, striking up a friendship with a fellow American journalist, Dessie (Cush Jumbo) who assists him in his hunt.
Airport newsstand mainstay James Patterson’s pulpy crime novels have been adapted frequently, but with little critical success despite his status as one of the highest-paid authors in America. His collaboration with Marklund was a big seller, making her only the second Swedish author (after Stieg Larsson) to top the New York Times Best Seller List in 2010. That same year, Patterson reportedly said that Hollywood studios were interested in bringing the book to the big screen, which isn’t surprising considering the fact that the late Larsson’s posthumously-released The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo had become a recent sensation in the U.S., with a future Academy Award-winning adaptation helmed by David Fincher to follow in 2011. Though Marklund and Patterson’s book obviously rode that wave, the film version languished in development until finally beginning production in March of 2019. Recently, The Snowman (2017) and The Girl in the Spider’s Web (2018) siphoned off whatever fumes of audience enthusiasm might have been left for Scandinavian noir (the former barely made back its budget, the latter belly-flopped at the box office), leaving none for Tanovic’s film.
All this to say, THE POSTCARD KILLINGS would be fighting a losing battle even if it was any good, which it certainly isn’t. The biggest problem upfront is Morgan, who is painfully miscast. The hunky actor can play a smiling villain or gregarious father figure with the best of them, but here, forced into a more minor key, the effect is not unlike that of a bull in a china shop. Compared to the chilly, socially awkward Will Graham as played by Hugh Dancy or the chiseled aloofness Daniel Craig brought to his role in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Morgan’s hamfisted performance becomes even harder to stomach.
Not that the screenplay does the man any favors. Scripted by Tove Alsterdal and Ellen Brown Furman, THE POSTCARD KILLINGS ignores the rule of “show, don’t tell” to its detriment, choosing to lead the viewer by the nose and talk every beat, plot point, and character motivation to death. A bit of visual ellipsis or ambiguity would have been like water to the thirsty here, but THE POSTCARD KILLINGS’ paint-by-numbers approach to Scandi noir feels almost mechanized. One would expect Bosnian director Danis Tanovic, whose 2001 debut, No Man’s Land nabbed Best Foreign Language Film Oscar at the 74th Academy Awards, to impart a touch of humanity to this lifeless affair, but aside from a few fluttery superimpositions, there’s as little style to be had here as there is substance.
Like the Patterson-Marklund novel it’s based on, THE POSTCARD KILLINGS feels as if it were reverse-engineered to cash-in on a trend, the peak of which has long passed. Though its late arrival is half the problem, it’s hard to imagine that this half-assed mimic would have looked any better at the height of the craze. With its skin-deep characterizations, shopworn tropes, and total lack of style or intrigue, THE POSTCARD KILLINGS couldn’t feel farther away from the sharp, ambiguous chills of the Nordic crime dramas it’s trying to emulate, and stinks to high heaven of development hell.
THE POSTCARD KILLINGS is available now on Blu-ray, DVD, and streaming services.