Thursday, March 12, 2020

The Postcard Killings: Oscar-Winning Danis Tanovic Takes on James Patterson

They carefully select their victims, but they still manage to pick the daughter of an experienced serial killer hunting police detective. Unfortunately, it takes forever for the kneejerk anti-American Euro cops to take his advice seriously. People will die in the interim, but dogged Jacob Kanon will never stop hunting his daughters’ murderers in Danis Tanovic’s The Postcard Killings, based on the co-authored James Patterson novel, which opens tomorrow in New York.

It was Det. Kanon who bought the London honeymoon for his daughter and her newlywed husband, so he takes the grotesque circumstances of their murder especially hard. Some unknown perpetrator posed them in a grisly manner that resembles a famous painting. Actually, identifying the artistic sources of their inspiration will be one of the insights Kanon brings to the investigation.

Of course, the British copper in charge of the case initially tries to keep him at arm’s length, but the particularly public nature of the border-crossing killing spree makes it increasingly difficult for the multi-nation task force to refuse his specialized expertise. Before each killing, a local journalist is sent a cryptic postcard and afterwards they receive a horrific photo of the crime scene. It is unclear how the journalists are selected. None of them regularly cover the crime beat, but expat human interest-writer Dessie Leonard would like to transfer to harder news, so she agrees to work with Kanon to get the inside track on the story.

It might surprise some film snobs that Bosnian filmmaker Danis Tanovic, who won the best Foreign Language Oscar (as it was then called) for No Man’s Land, would helm a straight-up serial killer thriller. Yet, this is the same Tanovic who directed the Pakistan-set whistleblower expose Tigers, so he clearly has an affinity for transnational drama. In fact, he executes the lurid crimes with operatic flair.

However, the story itself is rather standard issue stuff. Generally speaking, Patterson’s collaborations features two types of co-authors, up-and-coming crime novelists, which should include Swedish Postcard co-author Liza Marklund (who co-adapted their novel with Andrew Stern), and inconsequential hacks (like a nobody named Bill Clinton, whoever that might be). Maybe something was lost in the page-to-screen transfer, but we have seen everything here many times before.

Regardless, Jeffrey Dean Morgan is excellent as the guilt-wracked Kanon. Despite his high-profile TV roles, Morgan is rather under-appreciated for the intensity of his big-screen work, which is nicely showcased in Postcard. He also pairs up well with Famke Janssen, similarly well cast as Kanon’s grieving ex-wife Valerie, who provides key research assistance to his investigation. Joachim Krol adds rumpled gravitas as Inspector Bublitz, Kanon’s closest ally on the international task force. However, the real killers, whose identity is revealed about midway through, are a problematically bland duo.

The killers have a rather provocative backstory, but the weirdest part of the film is its rather ambiguous-to-sympathetic response to their deep, dark secret. Seriously, it makes an attentive viewer wonder what are we supposed to take-away from the film. Still, Tanovic, Morgan, and a number of veteran international character actors help elevate the workaday material. Probably a decent streamer but not special enough to justify Manhattan movie ticket prices, The Postcard Killings opens tomorrow (3/13) in New York, at the Cinema Village.