James Jay Edwards reviews The Postcard Killings, the latest film adaptation of work written by James Patterson, starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Cush Jumbo.
With the adaptation of his crime mystery novels Along Came a Spider and Kiss the Girls, author James Patterson has managed to carve out a healthy little niche for himself in Hollywood. The newest of his books to get the movie treatment is The Postcard Killings.
The Postcard Killings stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Watchmen) as Jacob Kanon, a New York City detective whose daughter is murdered in London while on her honeymoon. The grief-stricken father flies over to investigate the killing and discovers that his daughter’s murder may have been the work of a serial killer who telegraphs his crimes by sending postcards to seemingly random journalists. When one of these postcards winds up on the desk of a reporter named Dessie Leonard (Cush Jumbo from The Good Wife) in Madrid, the cop and the newswoman team up to stop the killer before he strikes again.
(The Postcard Killings, theatrical release poster, RLJE Films)
James Patterson collaborated on The Postcard Killings via email with Swedish crime novelist Liza Marklund (A Place in the Sun), and it is Marklund who, along with screenwriter Andrew Stern (Disconnect), adapted the novel into a movie script. Director Danis Tanovic (Death in Sarajevo, Tigers) turns that script into a visually popping masterclass in suspense and tension.
The Postcard Killings shows the mystery from many sides. Of course, there’s Jacob and Dessie, who work the case firsthand from both an emotional and an informational point of view. But the film also follows around a pair of married couples who tromp around Europe, possibly becoming the next victim of the killer while Jacob and Dessie do their best to crack the case. And then, there’s Jacob’s wife, Valerie (X-Men’s Famke Janssen), who helps Jacob from afar with her similarly emotional attachment. Finally, the movie takes a turn showing the events from the creepy vantage point of the murderer. The viewer gets to solve the mystery alongside the characters as they watch everything get pieced together.
(The Postcard Killings, RLJE Films)
At around the halfway point of The Postcard Killings, it becomes a completely different movie. Explaining further will spoil the movie’s biggest surprise, but Tanovic exploits a plot twist and manages to give the film a completely new attitude, and one that comes just in the nick of time, right as things are starting to get a little stale and redundant. And that change comes early enough in the movie for things to play out in a satisfying way – it’s not just a rabbit out of a hat. The first half of The Postcard Killings lets the audience know that the movie has the potential to be a great thriller, while the second half lives up to that potential.
Because of his turn as the smarmy villain Negan on The Walking Dead, Jeffrey Dean Morgan is gaining a reputation as a one-note heel, but The Postcard Killings shows a startling amount of depth and versatility. Not only is it fun to see the tough guy play a bona-fide hero, but he even gets to spread his wings a bit and show off his acting chops. His character has just lost his daughter to a serial killer, and Morgan plays it with the perfect balance of sensitive mourning combined with a lust for vengeance. Longtime fans won’t be surprised at the range that Morgan displays, but those who only know him as Negan will gain a new appreciation for his talents.
The Postcard Killings isn’t James Patterson’s most consistent work, but when it does finally tip its hand, it goes from good to great. You’ve just got to be patient enough to get there.