Synopsis – A New York detective investigates the death of his daughter who was murdered while on her honeymoon in London; he recruits the help of a Scandinavian journalist when other couples throughout Europe suffer a similar fate.
My Take – While many successful writers have often seen their novels or short stories being translated into the big screen, American author James Patterson, despite being active for about three decades, has been rarely given the same treatment.
Sure, his character Alex Cross has received two semi successful films in the form of the Morgan Freeman led Kiss the Girls (1997) and Along Came a Spider (2001), which was followed up the atrocious dump led by Tyler Perry called Alex Cross (2012), and cancelled yet acclaimed TV shows like Women’s Murder Club and Instinct, but, considering how Patterson (yes I am a fan) manages to release at least two books a year, a bit more relevance would be appreciated.
Hence I was excited when it was announced that his highly enjoyable 2010 serial killer thriller, The Postcard Killers, which he co-wrote with Swedish writer Liza Marklund, was finally being adapted from a screenplay by Liza Marklund herself (along with Tove Alsterdal and Tena Stivicic), and was being helmed by Oscar winning director Danis Tanovic (No Man’s Land), who would be marking his long awaited English language debut. With a concept which revolves around a familiar cat-and-mouse game, along with the tone and trauma of many Nordic Noir, this interesting serial killer had everything going for it to make standout in the very crowded genre.
However, by finding itself in production hell for long, the end result bears all the telling marks of a strained project as a tired, horrendously written thriller which is a chore to sit through from its briefly promising start to its inane finish.
Despite some twists and dazzling locations, the film just never rises to the challenge of making the plot interesting or engaging, leaving a lot to be desired, even for someone like myself who have read the 432 pages book. Sadly making this one yet another example of a film adaptation that only works or reads well on the page.
The story follows Jacob Kanon (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a New York detective, who lands in London, to carry out the devastating task of identifying the body of his young daughter who was found brutally murdered along with his newly minted son-in-law, during their honeymoon in Europe. Convinced that their deaths are a part of an ongoing serial killing spree, in which the killer, throughout various countries, has been sending postcards featuring notable artworks with cryptic messages to journalists, just prior to murdering his next victims and fashioning them after said artwork.
With the latest in the hands of Dessie Leonard (Cush Jumbo), an American journalist working in Sweden, Jacob places himself at the forefront of the developing investigation, which leads them to a mysterious young couple, Sylvia (Naomi Battrick) and Mac (Ruairi O’Connor), who may hiding a lot more than they are telling about their connection to the case.
As one would expect, there are twists, but they’re hardly as clever as one would hope for. Honestly the film does start on a familiar but promising note while touching on a few interesting ideas, however, this adaptation doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. On the one hand, the film has the kind of baroque horror imagery meant (I think) to keep you disturbed by the crimes, on the other hand it has a detective story structure, a provocative social angle that gets totally buried by the end, and some stabs at character depth that don’t flesh things out as much as seems intended.
Strangely enough, the film oftentimes feels like a simplistic drama rather than the gripping thriller that it promised. Large time periods go by where you start to realize that nothing has happened to develop the story-line or progress it along in any way. Making matters worse, the film gives away its central twist about 45 minutes in, thus taking all the wind out of its sails for the last hour, whereas on page, it offered more depth and enough narrative to hide the big reveal in plain sight.
But for anyone whose watched a thriller about a serial killer murdering their victims and presenting them in brutal and grotesque portraits, the film doesn’t offers any surprises to the casual filmgoers or genre enthusiasts.
There’s also a subplot tossed in about Dessie profiling Jason for an article that serves zero purpose, and the entire existence of Jason’s distressed wife Valerie (Famke Jannsen) is laughable at best, especially as she launches her own investigation during the third act which is even more preposterous.
While the art aspect is intriguing, and the psychological aspect works as far as it goes. Director Danis Tanovic tries to mix in some interesting shots and flashbacks to spice things up, but it is too little too late, clearly making him an odd choice for this country-hopping whodunit, and he doesn’t handle his English language debut with any finesse. Despite the grotesque body staging, the onscreen action is also fairly minimal. We see Jacob grieve, and we see him make deductions, but the two aspects of the character aren’t integrated in the writing; there’s only so much Morgan can do without more support from the script.
Finally, there’s a weird cap (not in the book) that makes us wonder exactly what the filmmakers were worried we’d think if they didn’t make the addition. No, the film it’s not like it’s painful to watch or anything like that, but rather, it’s one of those films where you can’t help but see what they should have changed to make it a significantly better film. All in all, it’s a drastically generic and by-the-book thriller that is not only relatively predictable but just flat-out boring to watch at times. Everything feels incredibly dry and mishandled. The screenplay as a whole just didn’t work and had such a hard time telling this story in a unique and exciting way.
Performance wise, Jeffrey Dean Morgan is too interesting an actor to drop into a one-note role like this. With his role totally underwritten here, he comes across as a wholly unlikeable harping American who nonsensically is able to wheedle his way into the reigns of major investigations in a variety of countries where he doesn’t live nor have any awareness of their laws or culture.
Cush Jumbo too suffers from poor writing hereby affecting her performance as a whole. While Steven Mackintosh, Famke Janssen, and Joachim Król are wasted, Denis O’Hare, Naomi Hattrick and Ruairi O’Connor are quite good in their roles. On the whole, ‘The Postcard Killings’ is a disappointing thriller which attempts to lazily cash in on Patterson’s brand but comes across as misguided, boring, and an often tasteless adaption.
Directed – Danis Tanovic
Rated – NR
Run Time – 104 minutes