Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Movie Review: The Postcard Killings (2020)

A gory serial killer crime drama, The Postcard Killings offers a tantalizing mystery mixing agenda-driven psychopathy with art, but the auspicious concept is compromised by wayward execution.

New York City police detective Jacob Kanon (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is emotionally crushed when his newlywed daughter is murdered in London along with her husband. Their bodies are drained of blood and grotesquely posed. The police are stumped and have no suspects. After a period of mourning with sustained help from the bottle, Jacob visits the scene of the crime and learns the killer sent a cryptic postcard to a local reporter before committing the murders.

Jacob reconnects with his ex-wife Valerie (Famke Janssen), then sets out to identify the perpetrator by privately investigating similar murders of couples occurring throughout Europe, including in Spain, Germany and Sweden, each preceded by a postcard sent to a journalist. Jacob initially receives limited help from local investigators, but eventually teams up with Stockholm-based culture reporter Dessie Lombard (Cush Jumbo) and they track down mysterious American couple Mac and Sylvia as potential persons of interest.

An independent production adapting the novel by Liza Marklund and James Patterson, The Postcard Killings jumps around grey European locations while wallowing in the grief of detective Kanon. The macabre overlap between murder and message art is familiar from Seven and Anamorph, but here director Danis Tanović grapples with an unwieldy script (five writers are co-credited, including Marklund), and can never quite find the right balance between a father's anguish, a horrific crime spree, frustrated investigators, and a complex backstory fuelling the imaginative slaughter.

The motive for the murders emerges as the most compelling angle to pursue, but here the exposition is hard boiled and unconvincing. The flashbacks attempting to create a causal background are confined to minimalistic treatments inspired by the dustier books on the pop psychology shelf. The narrative invests in references to artistic masterworks and cryptic postcard messages, but abandons the effort required to achieve a payoff. And what was an urban-based mystery takes an incongruous turn towards a rushed conclusion in snow-covered rural terrain.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan harbours a single mood for the duration of his quest for answers, occasionally pausing to grieve while the body count mounts. The rest of the cast members are provided with few opportunities to contribute and generally sleepwalk through their monotonal roles.

Initially enticing but ultimately disappointing, The Postcard Killings promises a trip but delivers just a scribbled note.


 


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