'Follow the Money': Berlin Review

Courtesy of Berlin International Film Festival
Slow and stodgy out of the starting blocks

Dogme 95 alumni Nikolaj Lie Kaas ('Brothers') and Thomas Bo Larsen ('Festen') headline this TV series from screenwriter Jeppe Gjervig Gram ('Borgen')

A dead body turns up near a wind farm in Denmark at the start of Follow the Money, a new hour-long drama series from Jeppe Gjervig Gram, the co-writer of Danish small-screen megahit Borgen. The sleekly packaged series, like Borgen and The Killing produced by public broadcaster DR, is headlined by two actors most famous for their stellar work in Dogme films: Nikolaj Lie Kaas (Open Hearts, Brothers) here plays the enigmatic CEO of a green-energy giant, while Thomas Bo Larsen (Festen, The Hunt) stars as the police detective connecting the death at the start of the series with some very unsavory financial goings-on in the energy world.

The first two episodes of the series, directed by Per Fly, whose films include The Inheritance and Manslaughter, were screened at the recent Berlin Film Festival and suggest Follow the Money is somewhat slow out of the starting blocks. However, with at least two ten-part seasons scheduled, there’s more than enough time to turn this into something meatier and more involving.

When a corpse is dredged up from the sea, Mads (Bo Larsen) is the kind of police officer who thinks nothing of stripping down and diving into the water to get his hands on something that might be useful evidence. At home, Mads turns out to be something of a fearless hero as well, having to deal with his bedridden wife (Line Kruse), who has MS, and their young children on top of his taxing job.

The private and professional activities of Mads run parallel to those of a young ex-con, Nicky (Esben Smed), whose girlfriend’s just had a baby and who’s been offered a job by his father-in-law at his garage. But this car nut loves the adrenaline of stealing cars and when he can’t come up with the money needed to buy the apartment that his girlfriend wants, he’s back to his old habits.

In stark contrast to these working-class people stand the glass-and-steel offices of Energreen, from where Alexander, nicknamed Sander (Lie Kaas), oversees his quickly expanding energy empire. Mediagenic, happy to talk to the press and extremely adept at getting what he wants, Sander fires his head of legal, and unexpectedly gives his position to a young and eager lawyer, Claudia (Natalie Madueno), who, unbeknownst to him, had been conducting a secret internal investigation.

These three strands (or four, if Sander and Claudia’s are taken as separate ones) are alternated a little stiffly in especially the first episode, which laboriously sets up the home life of Mads and Nicky to no immediately apparent benefit. Though no-doubt seeding the seeds of future drama -- it’s clear from her billing that Kruse’s sick mom will have a major storyline coming up -- while also giving some of the protagonists a more human dimension, it slows down the start of this series, which feels rather low-stakes and stodgy whenever the setting's purely domestic.

At the Financial Crime Squad, where Mads starts spending a lot more time with a colleague, Alf (Thomas Hwan), and at the offices of Evergreen things feel more urgent, with the sharp lines and transparency of the Scandinavian office decors clearly not a reflection of what actually goes on there. The title of the series comes from something Alf explains to Mads at the start of episode two: "We follow the money," he says, "everything else is a means to an end". Plot-wise, things start to heat up a little bit in this second hour, with Mads’ run-ins with his direct superior, who’s not a big fan of his gonzo methods, clearly not his last and Nicky and Claudia already finding themselves (almost) in harm’s way, though here too, the introduction of two characters from Claudia’s private life slows down the proceedings and feels borderline soapy. 

Bo Larsen and Lie Kaas are old hands at this sort of generically slick material and their steely determination is convincing, even if their roles don’t go all that much beyond two stereotypical figures; hopefully Mads and Sander will both get some psychologically illuminating material thrown their way as well as some actual scenes together. Newcomer Madueno impresses in what effectively amounts to the third and so far also the most complex lead, as what the ambitious young lawyer uncovers internally only serves to draw her deeper into the morass of financial and legal shenanigans that have kept Evergreen at the top, with her promotion turning her from an outsider into one of the people responsible for what’s going on.