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REVIEW: 'The Chestnut Man' a satisfying Scandinavian detective series

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The Chestnut Man

“The Chestnut Man,” now available on Netflix, is based on the book of the same name by Søren Sveistrup.

Some of my favorite dark and brooding detective films/TV series are Scandinavian. The Department Q quadrilogy — “Keeper of Lost Causes” (2013), “The Absent One” (2014), “A Conspiracy of Faith” (2016), and “Journal 64” (2018), which has yet to be released in the U.S. — is a must-watch. It’s the pinnacle of greatness. I enjoyed the BBC, Kenneth Branagh-helmed remake of “Wallander” (2008-16). Loved Veena Sud’s remake of “The Killing”(2011-14). And, of course, I love the Danish original — not the remake — of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (2009).

Although it’s not in the same league as these, “The Chestnut Man,” now showing on Netflix, is still pretty good, and worth a watch.

Based on the novel by Soren Sveistrup (who created the Danish version of “The Killing”), “The Chestnut Man” follows Det. Thulin (Danica Curcic) and her new partner, Hess (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard), as they try to figure out who is murdering women and leaving behind small “dolls” composed of chestnuts. The initial victim is missing a hand and an eye, and then subsequent victims begin missing an eye and more appendages — two hands; two hands and a foot. Who could be doing this? Why are they doing it? What’s the connection to the chestnut men? And how are these crimes tied to the disappearance of the daughter of a Danish politician, Rosa Hartung (Iben Dorner)?

Thulin is a dedicated investigator, so much so that her relationship with her daughter, Le (Liva Forsberg), is strained. And, she also, initially, has friction with Hess, whose heart doesn’t seem to be in his work. She writes him off as a slacker. As the six-part series progresses, Thulin and Hess learn to lean on each other, and their bond grows, so that by the end, you are hoping there will be more investigations in the future. I was a bit sad to see it end.

The actors are all very good. Curcic was in “Department Q: The Absent One” as a woman who, because of her past, is now living on the streets in fear. She was like a wounded, feral animal in that. Here, she’s your typical cop who is great at her job, but really awful dealing with human beings. She has a lot of baggage and isn’t very warm. Folsgaard, interestingly, was also in a Department Q film, but this time in “The Absent One” as the traumatized/disabled brother of a woman who gets kidnapped and held in a pressure chamber. Before that, and the first time I saw him, he was in the historical drama “A Royal Affair” (2012), which is a phenomenal film, in which he plays Christian VII, the “mad” king of Denmark. (He’s very versatile, and reminded me of Frederick Weller, who played Marshall Mann in the 2008-2012 TV series “In Plain Sight.”)

In “The Chestnut Man,” his character has a traumatic past — his wife and infant daughter died in a fire — and he’s on leave from Interpol. He’s distracted by wanting to get back to his job and can’t wait to move on. As the series continues, he becomes an integral part of the investigation. If you liked “The Killing,” Thulin’s kind of a hot mess, neglectful parent, although not as much as Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos); and he’s more stoic and not as charismatic as Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman), but their relationship is similar; initially, she wants him to stay out of her way, then they become close, relying on each other.

Although they are only playing supporting characters, Esben Dalgaard Anderson is very believable as the distraught, drowning-his-sorrow-in-alcohol father of the kidnapped girl; David Dencik, who was also in “Department Q: The Absent One,” is notable as the head of forensics; and Dorner is good as the mother who is trying to craft “normalcy” by returning to the political spotlight.

Story-wise, “The Chestnut Man” has its ups and downs. The initial murder on the farm — it’s a flashback — is pretty unsettling. It drew me in and hooked me. And toward the end of the series, things got really tense and unnerving. I think I was shouting at the screen. Although, I didn’t much like the main characters initially — they seemed bland — I eventually grew to care about them. The political backdrop muddied the story a bit, and there’s some time dedicated to a guy who confessed to kidnapping and killing the daughter, but then there’s question about that … And there is a lot of back and forth in time, which means you really have to pay attention. Sometimes, the series is doing too much, when it should be more straightforward. Just solve the damn case.

A few times, I thought I might need to rewind and rewatch parts so I could keep up. I don’t know if this was a problem with translation, or if it was more of a cultural thing. I admit, I don’t know a lot about Danish politics and we don’t exactly have the same tradition of crafting chestnut men and singing songs about him, so there is a slight learning curve here. And, finally, when the killer was revealed, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. Looking back, it felt a bit “manufactured.” I certainly didn’t guess who it was, so it was a surprise, if that means anything.

The end hinted at more to come, and I would certainly watch this duo tackling another murder investigation. Of course, they would have to do some jockeying to get them back into a homicide investigation. But, hey, if “The Killing” can do it, so can this show. And if anyone can do that, it’s Netflix, which after “The Killing” was canceled after three seasons, they brought it back for a fourth to give audiences some closure. Was it perfect? No. Was I glad to see those two working another investigation? You bet. In fact, I wish Enos and Kinnaman would do anything again as these characters. A stand-alone film? Sure!

“The Chestnut Man” has times when it lags, and I did question midway if I cared enough to watch another three episodes, but I’m glad I finished it. Overall, it was a satisfying addition to the serial killer/Scandinavian detective corpus.


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