Joe Friar is a member of the Critics Choice Association (Los Angeles) and the Houston Film Critics Society. A lifelong fan of cinema, he co-founded the Victoria Film Society, Frels Fright Fest, and is a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic.

Cold Case Hammarskjod (2019)

Swedish private investigator Goran Bjorkdahl and Danish filmmaker Mads Brugger in a scene from “Cold Case Hammarskjold.”

Just when you think Mads Brugger’s documentary about the mysterious death of Secretary-General of the United Nations Dag Hammarskjold unveils its smoking gun, the cold case takes the viewer down a more sinister path, exposing either one of the greatest crimes of the 20th century or a foolhardy conspiracy theory.

The deadpan delivery of Danish director Brugger borders satire while Swedish private investigator Goran Bjorkdahl takes on the sidekick role. Still, the evidence is compelling as the film slowly builds its case, leading to a gripping final act.

In 1961, a plane carrying Hammarskjold, crashed over Ndola, a remote part of Central Africa, killing everyone on board. The crisis in the Congo was escalating and Hammarskjold was on his way to negotiate a ceasefire.

Was the crash a result of pilot error, a technical malfunction or part of a murderous plot to stop the peace accord? And if the plane was deliberately taken down, who’s responsible? The evidence mounts in this cold case as Brugger and Bjorkdahl culminate six years of research into the two-hour documentary.

The film takes an offbeat approach in its presentation of the case. Brugger, dressed all in white like most of the documentary’s “villains,” dictates facts to two different women (Clarinah Mfengo and Saphir Wenzi Mabanza) transcribing the details using an old typewriter. Occasionally, they pause to comment or question Brugger about the information as the director-narrator ponders his next move.

The premise for the film began six years ago when Bjorkdahl discovered a piece of sheet metal riddled with holes among his elderly father’s possessions while helping his parents move. His father went on to explain that in 1975, he was working for the UN in Zambia when he was given the supposed piece of Hammarskjold’s plane by an airport worker who reportedly found it buried at the crash site. Swedish authorities showed no interest in the artifact, so his father hung on to it. Bjorkdahl began looking into the mysterious piece of scrap metal and had it analyzed by a forensic expert.

He also tracked down and interviewed eyewitnesses to the mysterious 1961 plane crash. Despite the government’s official report, which blamed pilot error, the people who came forward to speak to Bjorkdahl all recounted the same story which involved a second plane, a bright flash, and an explosion that seemed to indicate Hammarskjold’s DC-6 had been shot down.

Brugger uses vintage news footage, photos and exclusive interviews to build a case that Hammarskjold may have been assassinated as mercenaries, the CIA and MI6 enter the picture.

At times, the inundation of information can get a bit overwhelming but by the final act “Cold Case” becomes a whole new monster with revelations of a sinister organization named the South African Institute for Maritime Research (SAIMR) with ties to white supremacy and an outrageous plot to eradicate black Africans.

If you find yourself drifting during the film’s first half, the third act will keep you on the edge of your seat as “Cold Case Hammarskjold” gives the audience plenty to consider. Shocking as the accusations may be, nothing seems far-fetched as one possible corroborator suggests “Why don’t you try and find out who killed JFK?”

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Joe Friar is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (Los Angeles) and the Houston Film Critics Society. He co-founded the Victoria Film Society and reviews films for Hit Radio 104.7 and the Victoria Advocate.

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