'The Postcard Killings': Film Review

Lost in the mail.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays a NYC detective investigating the murders of his daughter and son-in-law in Danis Tanovic's thriller based on James Patterson and Liza Marklund's best-selling book.

The screen adaptation of James Patterson and Liza Marklund's 2010 best-selling crime thriller The Postcard Killers begs several questions: Shouldn't Patterson, who seems to produce a book every other week, be concentrating more on quality than quantity? Why is it that serial killers in bad movies and books seem to be less interested in murdering their victims than mounting conceptual art projects? And finally, why was this mediocre adaptation starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan retitled The Postcard Killings?

Morgan plays hard-boiled (is there any other kind?) New York City detective Jacob Kanon, who gets involved in the titular case for very personal reasons. While honeymooning in London, his daughter and son-in-law were brutally murdered by a person or persons who methodically posed their bodies and removed his daughter's hands. Jacob immediately heads across the pond to investigate the situation himself. He soon learns that similar crimes are occurring in various European countries, leading him on a nation-hopping expedition where he repeatedly butts heads with the local authorities.

It turns out that the (spoiler alert) killers have a particular modus operandi. Their victims are made to resemble classic paintings or sculptures housed in European museums. And they telegraph their crimes by sending postcards to journalists with such cryptic phrases as "Love will never die," "Til death do us part" and "Watch the innocent die," each followed by (and this is important, so pay attention), ellipses. Jacob meets up with one of the reporters, Dessie (Cush Jumbo), based in Sweden (the book's co-author Marklund, who also worked on the screenplay, is a best-selling Swedish crime writer), and the two begin working together.

The killers' identities are revealed about halfway through the film, leading to alternating scenes depicting their interactions with potential victims and Jacob and Dessie's efforts to track them down, helped from afar by Jacob's wife, Valerie (Famke Janssen, in a thankless role). Unfortunately, neither plot thread proves at all compelling, despite the lurid nature of the crimes (the camera lingers over the mutilated corpses for long periods), several surprising and tawdry plot twists, and Jacob's struggle to deal with his profound grief even while attempting to act professionally. Much is made of Jacob's ignore-the-rules approach to detective work, as compared with his more by-the-book European counterparts, but the culture-clashing theme quickly proves tiresome.

The film simply plods along, lacking the sustained tension necessary for viewers to overcome the ludicrous plotting. It's particularly surprising, considering that director Danis Tanovic's previous credits include 2001's supremely suspenseful No Man's Land, which won the best foreign language film Oscar. He's but the latest example of a talented foreign director running aground when attempting to navigate the perils of commercial American filmmaking.

The Postcard Killings ultimately feels all too familiar, recalling not only such far superior films as Se7en, but also countless episodes of such television procedurals as the CSI and Criminal Minds franchises. Even the casting feels like a television movie. Despite his formidable charisma, Morgan doesn't bring much to his role that we haven't seen before, and the supporting players, including Denis O'Hare in a brief appearance (signaling, of all things, a possible sequel), deliver adequate but hardly galvanizing performances.

The filmmakers are clearly hoping that Patterson's name will be enough to attract moviegoers, but this misbegotten effort only serves to further tarnish a cinematic brand already diminished by 2012's Tyler Perry-starrer Alex Cross.

Production: Good Films Collective, Capstone Group LLC, Hindsight Media, Lip Sync
Distribution: RLJE Films
Cast: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Famke Janssen, Cush Jumbo, Joachim Krol, Steven Mackintosh, Naomi Battrick, Ruairi O'Connor, Denis O'Hare
Director: Danis Tanovic
Screenwriters: Andrew Stern, Liza Marklund
Producers: James Patterson, Leopoldo Gout, Paul Brennan, Peter Nelson, Tracey E. Edmonds, Miriam Segal
Executive producers: Steve Bowen, Bill Robinson, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, David Banks, David Levin, Christian Mercuri, Joshua Reinhold, Paula Turnbull, James Swarbrick, Will Young, John E. Story, Neena Tailor, Norman Merry, Peter Hapmden
Director of photography: Salvatore Totino
Production designer: Jennifer Williams
Editor: Sean Barton
Composer: Simon Lacey
Costume designer: Nigel Egerton
Casting: Gail Stevens, Rebecca Farhall

104 minutes