Tobias Lindholm’s dramatization of the hunt for journalist Kim Wall’s murderer is bleak and thoughtful television.
The death of the brilliant, award-winning Swedish journalist Kim Wall made a worldwide headline in 2017, mostly because the details of her murder were so gruesome that it almost felt like a work of fiction. But in Tobias Lindholm’s The Investigation — a grim six-part miniseries based on the killing of Kim Wall — the brutality of that crime is never the main focus. Instead of trying to exploit the drama behind this tragedy, Lindholm chooses to focus on the other side of the story: the hard work and determination shown by the team of police who worked together to seek the justice that Kim Wall and her family deserved to have.
This, of course, seems like a strange choice, especially given how most true-crime series tend to do the exact opposite of what Lindholm is trying to accomplish here. But this odd choice is what, in the end, makes The Investigation not only refreshing but also respectful — something that other true-crime dramas have failed to do before.
Throughout the series, the name of Kim Wall’s murderer — a Danish inventor, Peter Madsen — is never mentioned. In fact, he never appears as a character. The show only refers to him as “the accused” or “the suspect.” Even when the violent and graphic details of the murder, including Wall’s dismembered body, are always at the center of the characters’ interaction, the show always finds a way to treat it with the utmost respect. Lindholm keeps everything as discreet as possible.
Naturally, this would make the show less gripping, especially when it’s compared to the other true-crime series like the excellent Nordic noir The Killing. And at times, The Investigation does feel a little too flat and mundane. But drama and tension have never been what Lindholm wants to capture from the beginning. He wants to highlight the heroism of the people who worked hard to solve this tragedy. “I wanted to make a story about heroes, so I didn’t have room for him (Madsen),” Lindholm says in an interview with the NY Times.
To achieve that, Lindholm brilliantly reframes the narrative of the central mystery, and instead put the emphasis on the character of Jens Møller Jensen (Søren Malling), the police officer who led the investigation from day one until the day of Kim Wall’s murderer got sentenced to life four months later.
Each episode of The Investigation shows the development of the investigation that Møller and his team — Maibritt Porse (Laura Christensen), Musa Amin (Dulfi Al-Jabouri), Nikolaj Storm (Hans Henrik Clemensen), some divers, and cadaver dogs — carry on. We follow them as they slowly but methodically try to get their hands on the evidence. We’re with them as they encounter one difficulty after another. Every progress, every challenge, and even every mistake that this team must face is always shown in a meticulous way. And this results in the show achieving a level of procedural details that we’ve rarely seen before in a lot of other true-crime shows.
Every progress, every challenge, and even every mistake that this team must face is always shown in a meticulous way.
What’s even more interesting is the characterization. Where most other crime TV shows like to give their protagonists — the police, the detective, the FBI agent in charge — a complex backstory, The Investigation chooses to avoid taking the same route. All the characters, including the male lead, Møller, are not provided with any complicated personal life. They’re portrayed simply like a group of ordinary people doing their job; defined only by the big determination they put into the investigation, which, in the end, makes their hard-works all the more inspiring and exceptional.
Yet even without all those complexities, Lindholm somehow still manages to make the characters interesting and the performances compelling. Christensen, in particular, is a standout, displaying tenacity and grittiness without overdoing it.
The Investigation is not without its flaws, of course. The slow pace and the mundanity shown in each episode might be a little off-putting to some viewers. But for the most part, Lindholm aces what he sets out to do in the beginning: giving tribute to the group of ordinary people who work hard together in seeking justice in the face of a terrible tragedy. At the same time, he revolutionizes what procedural, true-crime dramas can achieve when the subject is handled with the utmost respect. It’s an authentic, exceptionally made TV, and one that you shouldn’t miss.
The Investigation is available on HBOMax.