Conspiracy theories capture the imagination in a way that few other things can. Whether it engages a part of the brain that otherwise lays dormant or just excites those with overactive minds, they’ve been all the rage for as long as society has existed. Largely, they’re bonkers and have no basis in fact. Just look at the assertions that Jeffrey Epstein was killed by the Clintons for proof of that. However, every so often, something comes along that lends credence to a conspiracy. This week’s Cold Case Hammarskjöld is one such example. A riveting non fiction tale about a mysterious death and the global conspiracy that spools out from it, this is one of the better documentaries of 2019 so far.
The documentary follows the Danish director Mads Brügger, as well as the Swedish private investigator Göran Björkdahl, as they look into the death of former Secretary-General of the United States Dag Hammarskjöld. Initially, they’re just investigating his mysterious end in 1961. Hammarskjöld was elected to be a conservative Secretary-General, though he turned out to have a reformer streak in him. Then, as he was on a plane headed to the impoverished African nation Congo on September 18th, when the vehicle crashed in Zambia. Foul play has long been suspected. As their investigation begins to close in on some unsettling notions about Hammarskjöld’s end, they discover something horrific and earth shattering. Thus begins a spinoff from the Hammarskjöld mystery, which for all the money looks like murder. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, though. What can be a crime far worse than killing the Secretary-General of the United Nations, you might wonder? Well, you’ll have to see the film in order to find out, but trust me when I say it concerns no less than a potential genocide. Brügger directs, as well as a plays a Michael Moore type central role. John Erik Kaada composed the score, while the cinematography is by Tore Vollan.
It’s hard not to be stunned by this movie. Even if the conspiracy isn’t as far reaching as Göran Brügger suggests, what he’s discovered is unnerving, unsettling, and an absolute horror. Without getting into the details of it all, which I want you to see for yourself, there are a few moments that are genuinely shocking. The presence of a playing card on the body of Hammarskjöld, the true activities of a group called the South African Institute for Maritime Research (or SAIMR for short), as well as one very dangerous man in white. The more that you learn about SAIMR, the more you realize that something was up. Maybe the conspiracy wasn’t as wide ranging and global as Brügger posits, but it’s almost impossible to watch this and not feel like Hammarskjöld was killed by forces who wanted him silenced.
Cold Case Hammarskjöld feels dangerous. This doc has the feel of something that could be the end for Brügger. At the same time, he represents what holds the film back from true greatness. His on screen moments are hit or miss, sometimes elevating the tale, while distracting at others. His investigative qualities seem to be on point, they’re just depicted in a less than fully effective manner. It’s a small issue, but one that keeps the movie from being something that arguably could run away with the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
This weekend, documentary lovers will find a conspiracy theory to sink their teeth into when Cold Case Hammarskjöld opens. The flick is constantly engaging, depicting the unraveling of a potentially true life scandal. At worse, it’s a compelling conspiracy. At best, Brügger has blown the lid off of a massive criminal enterprise. That’s up to you to make up your mind about, but the fact that independent investigations are currently ongoing suggests that there’s more than just smoke here. Regardless, it’s a must see, plain and simple…
Be sure to check out Cold Case Hammarskjöld, in theaters starting on Friday!