Postcards from the Dredge: Tanovic’s English Language Debut a Major Misfire
Films presenting serial killers who desire to make like The Police and turn murder into art are a dime a dozen these days, often featuring questionable psychological solipsism on the crafting of the sociopath. Borrowing the tone and trauma of many a Nordic Noir, Bosnia’s celebrated director Danis Tanovic ended up being the responsible party to direct the film adaptation of the 2010 novel The Postcard Killings by James Patterson and Liza Marklund. Stuck in developmental hell for years as it passed hands from several directors and cast members (initially this was a directorial project for Janusz Kaminski, Spielberg’s noted cinematographer, while names like Patrick Dempsey, Dakota Fanning, Connie Nielsen and others were once among the cast), 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.
New York detective Jacob Kanon (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is devastated when he must fly to London and identify the body of his daughter who was murdered, along with his newly minted son-in-law, on their honeymoon. It appears his daughter’s murder is one of a string of killings in which someone, throughout various countries, sends a postcard featuring notable artworks with cryptic messages just prior to murdering a couple and fashioning the corpses after said artwork. From Spain to Sweden, where he is assisted by journalist Dessie Leonard (Cush Jumbo), Jacob is at the forefront of the developing investigation, when a mysterious couple (Naomi Battrick, Ruairi O’Connor) with considerable secrets are finally apprehended.
Tanovic, whose No Man’s Land (2001) won Best Screenplay at Cannes (and an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film) and twice won the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize in Berlin for An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker (2013) and Death in Sarajevo (2016), is an odd choice for this country-hopping whodunnit, and he doesn’t seem to handle directing his English language actors with any finesse.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan 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 (“You do what’s expected. I do what’s necessary,” he gloats like an ignorant cowboy). Famke Janssen stars as Kanon’s ex-wife, and hangs back in New York until Marklund and Patterson’s plot finally devise something for her to do which relates to the psychological motive for the unlikely serial killers (a smug Denis O’Hare). It starts out on a familiar but promising note, and Morgan’s hunt for his daughter’s killer feels comparable, at least in early sequences, to something like Schrader’s underrated 1979 title Hardcore (but then, what film about a member of law enforcement searching for their child in some seedy underbelly doesn’t feel comparable to this?). As ill-fashioned as Tomas Alfredson’s infamous Jo Nesbo adaptation The Snowman (2017), Tanovic’s The Postcard Killings is more successful as an inadvertent comedy than anything else.