Free Country is a top-notch police procedural. It’s a cop drama that looks at two very different detectives as they work together to solve the disappearance of two girls in a small town. They must deal with local townspeople and town happenings while learning to work with each other through their flaws and personal issues in order to solve what happened to these girls. It’s quiet, brutal, and endlessly compelling.
The film takes place in Löwitz, Germany in 1992, just two years after the reunification of Germany in a remote area by the Szczecin Lagoon and the Polish border. When two girls have gone missing and are presumed dead, two out-of-town detectives, Patrick Stein (Trystan Pütter) and Markus Bach (Felix Kramer), teamed up by government officials eager for a quick arrest to prove the new Germany can carry out swift justice. But the two soon begin to uncover the dark secrets of a lawless backwoods area where a serial killer can run rampant for years before anyone notices.
Though a remake of Alberto Rodruiguez’s Marshland, which swept The Goya’s (Spain’s Academy Awards) in 2015, I got a lot of American crime thriller vibes from the film. There were hints of Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia, Netflix’s Mindhunter, and Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River all mixed together over a political and thriller backdrop set in Germany. Director Christian Alvart sets a dark tone that puts you on edge the whole time. This is a new town for our detectives and a new town for us as the viewer. What the detective’s learn, we learn, and what the detectives suspect, we suspect. As our detectives start getting some heat on the case, Alvart brilliantly makes it feel like the town is collapsing on the detectives and we begin to worry that not only will they not solve the case, but they may not make it out of the this town. It’s gripping and chilling and you’re transfixed the whole movie.
Kramer and Pütter are sensational together, with Kramer giving one of the best performances of 2020. The two play very different detectives, yet two who are great at their jobs. Patrick is a bit quieter and a bit more by-the-book. He doesn’t do anything crazy and this is probably the most grotesque crime he has ever seen (he throws up after seeing a dead body). Markus, on the other hand, has been around the block and seen some things. He isn’t phased when they discover some dead bodies, doesn’t bat an eye when telling parents their child is dead, and has some aggressive and unorthodox methods of getting information from people. Though they don’t always see eye to eye, Free Country is a look at this partnership and the dynamic of these two detectives and they do their jobs well, regardless of how they go about it. They are layered characters who are dealing with far more than just this case, which only makes their characters more compelling.
Free Country is one of the best films I saw at the 2020 Fantasia Festival. This is a thrilling murder mystery with constant twists and turns that will have you riveted. Led by two stellar performances and top-notch directing, this is a smart, chilling thriller you won’t soon forget.
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