Newly married daughter and her husband murdered. No prints, no evidence of any sort. An NYC detective left with nothing but his wits as he tries to track down the murderer. This is the basic premise of thriller The Postcard Killings, directed by Danis Tanovic (No Man’s Land), starring Jeffery Dean Morgan (Watchmen), and adapted from a James Patterson and Liza Marklund novel. There is a certain simplicity to The Postcard Killings that is inarguably ruined as more and more answers come to light, only to be saved by a measured performance from Morgan and some lovely cinematography. These two things, however, are not enough to keep an audience’s attention, no matter how grizzly or gruesome a story becomes. Almost as soon as the veil of mystery is lifted, the banality begins.
Detective Jacob Kanon (Morgan) is called to London to identify the bodies of his daughter and her husband who were murdered on their honeymoon. Distraught and driven by a desire to bring his daughter home, Morgan journeys across Europe in search of any leads which might bring him closer to justice, to peace. It’s not until the various investigative agencies realize that a postcard was sent to a journalist in each city before a murder took place that Kanon realizes he’s tracking a serial killer with a message. With the help of Dessie Lombard (Cush Jumbo), a U.S. journalist stationed in Stockholm, his ex-wife Valerie (Famke Janssen), German officer Inspector Bublitz (Joachim Król), Kanon has a slim chance at deciphering the clues and finding the killer.
There is no film which isn’t made better by Morgan’s involvement. A personal favorite comic book adaptation, The Losers, is a strong collaborative ensemble piece of which his Clay is the moral center amid more colorful personalities. His take on Edward Blake, a.k.a. Comedian, in director Zack Snyder’s Watchmen is a performance as soulful and morose as it is despicable and macabre. The entirety of video game adaptation Rampage, an otherwise predictable and forgettable film, is given life for a few scenes thanks to his scenery-chewing performance as government officer Harvey Russell. Such is the case with The Postcard Killings, wherein Morgan’s performance is, perhaps, the best thing about the entire production. Unlike other justice-seeking thrillers, Morgan portrays Kanon as an open wound, unable to get the sight of his daughter’s lifeless body lying in an autopsy storage room out of his mind, pushed by a need for peace, not vengeance. The character of Kanon doesn’t want to break the rules to get to the person responsible and acknowledges that bending them may be the only way to uncover new leads, which would often be played by someone with hyper-masculinity. Instead, Morgan brings an incredible vulnerability, a humanity that grounds a truly immoral tale. As good as Jumbo, Janssen, and the rest are in supporting the story, it’s only when Morgan’s on-screen then does any bit of The Postcard Killings feel possessed with any sense of urgency. When the direction and narrative try to push the notion that every minute counts, yet do so weakly, a single performance can’t generate the momentum a thriller needs.
For a strong thriller, there needs to be a push-pull of tension as the protagonist searches for the antagonist: a raising of stakes, a wrinkle in the plan, some *thing* which places the audience on the edge of their seats. For all the good work cinematographer Salvatore Totino (Spider-Man: Homecoming) put in to creating a look of a world just slightly dimmed in color and vibrancy, as though permanently drained when Kanon lost his daughter, the direction by Tanovic often feels dated and uninspired, creating a distraction from the look of the film. For instance, there are several moments when the camera goes in-and-out of focus, jolting quickly as if to create confusion and unease. This is mildly intriguing in the opening moments of the film as the audience is only given close-ups of pale body parts and gloved hands to follow. It’s less so when trying to convey Kanon’s focus on maps and data as it’s less a menagerie of content akin to a conspiracy theorists hidden room and more like the handful of notes you have doing an image-search in a kid’s book. There’s too little for Kanon to be so overloaded that direction of this sort would make any kind of sense. Additionally, the narrative decides to spin itself out about halfway through, a move that seeks to increase tension in a similar means as, say David Fincher’s killer reveal in Se7en, except the more the audience comes to know, the less the plot makes any kind of sense. Perhaps there are details in the original novel that would create more fluidity and help to maintain apprehension as Kanon races to capture the killer or, maybe without a 104-minute runtime restriction, there was an opportunity for the pacing to play more evenly.
For those who’d enjoyed the experience and desire to learn more, the special features offer a pittance: a brief “making of” and a photo gallery of stills from the feature. From watching “The Making of The Postcard Killings” featurette, it’s clear that the cast and principle crew greatly believed in the story they were making, talking about it as an intense thriller with numerous ways to keep the audience off-balance. The more cynical would read the featurette as part of the marketing machine for any artistic creation, but there’s something truly authentic with the way they are speaking. Perhaps reading it on the page or being on set and seeing it all come together created something that doesn’t quite make it into the finished product. All of the tension, the gravitas, the incredible weight that they all speak of is near-absent in the finished product, which is, truly, a great shame because the concept of The Postcard Killings is quite intriguing.
The Postcard Killings Special Features
- The Making of “The Postcard Killings”
- Photo Gallery
Available on VOD and digital beginning March 13th, 2020.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD beginning May 19th, 2020.
Final Score: 2 out of 5.