Last year in Denmark, A Conspiracy of Faith became the highest grossing local film in history, slightly edging out the two films preceeding it in the phenomenally successful Department Q series. Based on the international best-selling books of Jussi Adler-Olsen, the film adaptations have been successful throughout northern Europe, but have sadly been largely ignored in the English speaking world.
It doesn’t matter if you haven’t seen the first two instalments, The Keeper of Lost Causes or The Absent One, to appreciate the latest. Each film is a stand-alone crime case, the only constant being the detectives taking on the investiagation. They are Carl Mørck (Nikolai Lie Kaas) a cranky, jaded individual carrying around the burden of a past case that ended badly, and his partner Assad (Fares Fares), a far more openly compassionate man who often makes up for Carl when it comes to customer relations.
When Conspiracy first starts, Department Q, a much neglected sector of the Danish police which handles cold cases, is presented with a message in a bottle which has seemingy been floating around in in the sea for several years. It appears to have been written by a child who has been kidnapped, along with his brother. Just when the bottle turns up, another abduction of siblings takes place, this one within a village populated by a religious sect.
The perpetrator, we learn, preys on people of faith. He blackmails them and bargains for their silence by threatening to have them ostracised by their closed community.
While our heroes try to track down the killer before he does harm to the children he’s keeping hostage, there’s time for atheist Carl and muslim Assad to debate about the nature of faith – one of the many points of reference in which the two differ. No matter how grave the cases they delve into, the dynamics between the two detectives remain the franchise’s greatest asset.
As with the other films in the series, this is a very slick, well-mounted production, with great action sequences, plenty of tension, and a complex and disturbing villain. The latter this time in the form of Johannes (Pål Sverre Hagen), a well-groomed young man whose modus operandi is more about challenging people’s religious beliefs than anything as trivial as ending the lives of children.
Hagen is suitably chilling in the role, but it’s the two leads who just keep getting better with each film. Lie Kaas further exposes the vulnerability of the damaged Carl, while Fares, who won Best Supporting Actor at the Danish Film industry awards in his first outing as Assad, again stakes his claim as the heart and soul of the film.
If you love a good police procedural, especially a Scandinavian one, then this is a class act. Fans of the book will find the main narrative has been simplified somewhat and subsidiary sub-plots have been done away with entirely, but that’s to be expected.
All in all, it’s a compelling drama and will have the faithful hanging out for the fourth instalment, which if it’s anything like the book, will be the best in the series.
Conspiracy of Faith is currently screening at the Scandinavian Film Festival
Richard Leathem @dickiegee