Producers: James Patterson, Leopoldo Gout, Paul Brennan, Peter Nelson, Tracey E. Edmonds and Miriam Segal Director: Danis Tanović Screenplay: Andrew Stern and Ellen Brown Furman Cast: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Famke Janssen, Cush Jumbo, Joachim Król, Steven MacKintosh, Naomi Battrick, Ruairi O’Connor, Denis O’Hare, Eva Rose, Lukas Loughran, Dylan Devonald-Smith, Sallie Harmsen and Orla O’Rourke Distributor: RLJE Films
“The Postcard Killers,” a 2010 novel by the endlessly prolific James Patterson co-authored with Swedish thriller writer Liza Marklund, is the source for this adaptation by Bosnian writer-director Danis Tanović (“No Man’s Land”), which is elegantly made (the European locations, many in Scandinavia, are nicely caught in widescreen images by veteran cinematographer Salvatore Totino, who previously shot such films as “The Da Vinci Code” and “Spider-Man: Homecoming”) but hobbled by a plot that might have worked on the printed page but comes across as totally contrived and incredible onscreen.
Scripted by Andrew Stern and Ellen Brown Furman from a screenplay (presumably in Swedish) by Marklund, Tove Alsterdal and Tena Štivičić, the plot involves a series of murders of young married couples in various European cities. Each killing is preceded by a postcard sent to a local journalist with a brief message about love, with an ellipsis that suggests another is to follow…
That pattern is uncovered by Jacob Kanon (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a NYC detective who’s the father of the young bride killed in one of the murders, posed with her husband in a hideous tableau that, as will be disclosed, is modeled after a famous painting. While Jacob continues his unofficial investigations in Europe, which eventually are joined by police detective Klaus Bublitz (Joachim Król) and Dessie Lobard (Cush Jumbo), a journalist who received one of the cards, his angry ex-wife Valerie (Famke Janssen) undertakes some sleuthing back home.
Juxtaposed with Kanon’s efforts—frustrated by most of the other European cops who generally oppose his meddling—is the journey of British couple Sylvia and Mac Randolph (Naomi Battrick and Ruairi O’Connor). They’re befriended on their travels by a curt, bearded man who, it’s implied, could well be the killer. That possibility will, however, be challenged by revelations involving Simon Haysmith (Denis O’Hare), a big-time moneyman now serving a prison term for fraud.
The performances are more than adequate, headed by Morgan’s alternately morose and furious Kanon—though at times he seems as frustrated as the detective he’s playing. (When at one points Kanon remarks, “It’s like I’m banging my face into a wall over and over again,” you wonder if the line doesn’t reflect Morgan’s feeling.) The talented Janssen, unfortunately, is pretty much wasted, and Jumbo is just okay. The actors one will probably find most memorable are Battrick, O’Connor and O’Hare, though the plot twists involving their characters as the film progresses strain credulity past the breaking point, especially since the device of posing each dead couple to resemble some notable artwork has already undermined plausibility. (It’s the sort of thing that one can swallow more easily in a book than a film, even when the result is shot as luxuriously as it is by Totino.)
The rest of the technical side of the film isn’t of the same quality. Though the interior locations are as impressive as the exteriors, Jennifer Williams’ production design is otherwise fairly ordinary, and Sean Barton’s editing is sometimes lumpy. Simon Lacey’s score is negligible.
Like so many multi-national efforts, “The Postcard Killings” boasts a slew of production partners. One of them is the Good Films Collective, a moniker that really doesn’t apply in this case. Another is Hindsight Media, which is somewhat more appropriate: in hindsight you’ll probably wish you hadn’t wasted your time on it.