‘Cold Case Hammarskjöld’ presents a compelling case with appalling accusations

While “Cold Case Hammarskjöld” starts as a murder investigation, the movie quickly evolves into something far more sinister.

This review contains spoilers for “Cold Case Hammarskjöld.”

“Cold Case Hammarskjöld” is marketed as a movie that attempts to solve the mystery of the death of Dag Hammarskjöld, a UN secretary general who died in a plane crash in Northern Rhodesia (presently Zambia) in 1961. Hammarskjöld was visiting the Republic of the Congo in an attempt to quell the ongoing political crisis which involved a group of secessionists and the interests of foreign government and corporations.

Hammarskjöld was a fierce advocate of the independence of African nations and was killed in a plane crash with his body found largely intact. The rest of the people onboard were found to be badly charred, which caused many people to immediately suspect foul play. To make things even more interesting, found in Hammarskjöld’s collar was a playing card, the ace of spades, which is often referred to as a “death card” in the U.S. military.

Holding the audience’s hand in this alleged murder mystery is Mads Brügger, the film’s director who is a formidable character that carries palpable and infectious energy. In order to best tell this complicated story, Brügger is accompanied by two African female secretaries who are seemingly typing up Brügger’s story on old typewriters, but they really serve as proxies for the audience, asking questions and clarifying plot points.

The first half of the movie focuses on the mystery involving Hammarskjöld and his precarious death. It is established rather quickly in the film that there is a pretty good chance that some foul play was involved in the plane crash. Too many witnesses had accounts that differed from official reports and there were too many questions and secrets involving the crash to conclude that it was just mechanical failure involved.

If the film stopped at the investigation of Hammarskjöld’s death then it would have been an interesting yet not particularly noteworthy piece of journalism. After all, many people had suspected there was foul play involved and Brügger never presents a smoking gun.

However, just when you think that the film has hit a dead end about the case of Hammarskjöld’s death, the plot turns.

Without giving away too much of the jaw-dropping, eye-popping details, Brügger and his team allege a multi-country conspiracy that involves a secret South African intelligence agency, the possible involvement of MI6 and the CIA and the use of biological warfare.

While this crucial storyline is hard to follow in its early stages, when Brügger eventually reveals enough of the story that the audience gets a sense of what is going on, it is impossible to ignore the accusations made. Suddenly, Hammarskjöld’s death is forgotten and the focus of the documentary is violently thrown into a completely separate issue that is far more disturbing than any possible conspiracy against Hammarskjöld.

While the crucial foundation of the case built in “Cold Case Hammarskjöld” is largely based on circumstantial evidence, enough document-based evidence is given that it is impossible to chalk up the accusations as mere conspiracy. Brügger builds a fascinating narrative and uses so many intricate and complicated details that it is hard to suggest an alternative explanation for what is being described.

By the end of the film, the horror that has been revealed leaves the audience hoping and praying that Brügger was somehow mistaken in his findings, but only time will tell.

Edited by Joe Cross | jcross@themaneater.com

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