'Intrigo: Death of an Author': Film Review

Intrigo: Death of an Author- Publicity still 1 - H 2020
A narrative puzzle that proves tiresome in the solving.

Ben Kingsley stars in the first entry of a trilogy of thrillers based on novellas by best-selling Swedish crime author Hakan Nesser.

Some films can't resist succumbing to the self-indulgent pleasures of their own cleverness. That's certainly the case with this first entry in an already-filmed trilogy based on a series of novellas by best-selling Swedish crime novelist Hakan Nesser. A twisty tale about a man who assumes he's succeeded in murdering his wife only to discover years later that she may still be alive, Intrigo: Death of an Author sacrifices its potentially compelling central storyline to an elaborate, meta-style intermingling of supposed fiction and reality that turns out to be far more confusing than intriguing.

The story is being related by translator and aspiring novelist Henry (Benno Fürmann) to a famous author, Henderson (Ben Kingsley, milking his small role for everything it's worth), over a long meeting on the sun-drenched terrace of Henderson's gorgeous home on a Greek island. Henderson has apparently agreed to lend his expert advice as a favor, but he doesn't seem particularly enthused by the assignment as he listens to Henry narrate the tale. "So he lets her leave just like that," Henderson observes about a character's actions. "What a wimp!" At another point, he seems to grow impatient. "Surprise me, Henry!" he urges. (Although we never find out how good a novelist Henderson is, it's readily apparent that he's an incisive critic.)

The central character of Henry's novel, David (also played by Fürmann), is shown on vacation with his wife Eva (Tuva Novotny), who informs him that she's pregnant by another man and intends to leave him. In response, David hatches a plan to disable the brakes of her car so she'll have an "accidental" crash while driving through the mountains. But while the plan seems to work, neither the car nor the body are ever found.

Cut to years later, when David is listening to a classical concert on the radio and, in one of the film's more outlandish plot elements, becomes convinced that an audience member heard loudly coughing in the background is his long-lost wife. He travels to the European city where the concert was held (the fictitious Maardam, which features prominently in much of Nesser's writings) and tries to find her.

That story is interwoven with a subplot involving David translating the latest work by a famous German author, Germund Rein, who has recently died under mysterious circumstances. While working on the translation, David falls in love with Rein's wife (Daniela Lavender), who rebuffs his advances. After David finds a mysterious message, written in code, in the manuscript in which Rein claims that his wife is going to kill him, she's charged with his murder and is sent to prison.

The pic ends with a final would-be shocking twist. But by then viewers will have stopped caring, weary of all the determined ambiguity on display. It's telling that the brief scenes between Henry and Henderson, featuring the latter's arch comments and expressive non-verbal reactions, are more engrossing than the convoluted mystery narrative that consumes most of the running time. Another problem is the uninvolving performance by Fürmann, who seems to be striving for recessive mysteriousness in his characterization but merely comes across as wooden. Some of the supporting players take up the slack, especially Novotny, who delivers a sympathetic turn as David's unhappy wife, but it's not enough to fill the central void.

Director Daniel Alfredson, who dealt with similar if far more violent material in his two entries in the Stieg Larsson "Millennium Trilogy" (The Girl Who Played With Fire, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest), delivers a visually handsome production that never comes to dramatic life. It's hard to imagine that the next two films in this series, Intrigo: Samaria and Intrigo: Dear Agnes, will find much commercial traction, especially considering their casts are even lesser known.

Production companies: Enderby Entertainment, The Amazing Film Company, Umedia, Seine Pictures
Distributor: Lionsgate
Cast: Ben Kingsley, Benno Fürmann, Tuva Novotny, Michael Byrne, Veronica Ferres, Daniela Lavender, Tor Clark, David Lowe, Jason Riddington, Sandra Dickinson
Director: Daneil Alfredson
Screenwriters: Birgitta Bongenhielm, Daniel Aldredson
Producers: Rick Dudgale, Thomas Peter Friedl, Uew Schott
Executive producers: Bastien Sirodot, Adrian Politowski, Peter Bevan, Florian Dargel, Claudia Bluemhuber, Uta Fredbeil, Irene Gall, Daniel Petrie Jr., Ian Hutchinson, Edward Lindqvist
Director of photography: Pawel Edelman
Production designer: Miljen "Kreka" Kljakovic
Editor: Hakan Karlsson
Composers: Klas Wahl, Anders Niska
Costume designer: Momirka Bailovic
Casting: Des Hamilton

Rated R, 105 minutes