The Element of Crime


The Element of Crime

Critics Consensus

No consensus yet.



Total Count: 13


Audience Score

User Ratings: 4,969
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Movie Info

Lars von Trier's first film, The Element of Crime, concerns police detective Fisher who seeks the help of a therapist after having an amnesic episode. Unable to recall why he returned to Egypt, Fisher begins to look for answers. He returns to Europe, where he was previously engaged investigating the Lotto Murders, to visit his mentor, Osborne. The author of The Element of Crime, Osborne advocates identifying with criminals as a means of capturing them. After a brief meeting, Fisher continues his investigation assisted by an Asian prostitute. As he undergoes the archetypal descent into the underworld, he gets dangerously close to uncovering the cause of his amnesia and the murderer. Replete with references to film noir and world cinema, The Element of Crime, depending on your view, is either a postmodern update of the crime film or a gaudy parasite on tradition.


Jerold Wells
as Police Chief Kramer
Astrid Henning-Jensen
as Osborne's Housekeeper
Janos Hersko
as Coroner
Stig Larsson
as Coroner's Assistant
Harry Harper
as First Hotel Clerk
Camilla Overbye Roos
as First Lotto Girl
Roman Moszkowicz
as Second Hotel Clerk
Maria Behrendt
as Lotto Girls
Lars von Trier
as Schmuck of Ages
Frederik Casby
as White Policeman
Duke Addabavo
as Black Policeman
Jon Bang Carlsen
as Angry Policeman
Leif Magnusson
as Hotel Guest
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Critic Reviews for The Element of Crime

All Critics (13) | Fresh (10) | Rotten (3)

Audience Reviews for The Element of Crime

  • May 05, 2014
    They probably should have just been honest and called this "Blade Runner 2", because I'm thinking that this film is supposed to be about the '80s German rock band Element of Crime... which formed about a year after this film's release. You can say that I was stretching with that lame reference that is silly enough for not even fitting in the European entertainment industry's timeline, but Element of Crime was known for its melancholy efforts... I think (German lyrics), just like Lars von Trier. It's a little easier to tell that von Trier is trying to bum folks out, because with this, his first feature film, the Dane wasted no time in running towards English-language filmmaking. Granted, he may have gone a little English when he got Michael Elphick, because his Cockney accent is so thick that he may as well be speaking a different language, - say, Danish - but hey, you've got to give it to ol' Lars for trying. Yeah, all that respect at Cannes Film Festival that augments the more European a film is may be nice and all, but von Trier is by no means someone to sugarcoat the brutal truth, and the brutal truth is that you're going to have to appeal to ignorant English-speakers if you want to make it in the business, something that the band Element of Crime probably should have realized. Mind you, that's not to say that von Trier stormed out of the gate notorious, and I'm not just saying that because he's still unknown to us ignorant Americans who are not in the art film crowd, because he's pretty much the only guy in attached to this film who people still remember. Of course, in all fairness, there's not a whole lot in this film worth remembering, for although this is a reasonably worthy debut for a reasonably talented filmmaker, not unlike von Trier himself, it has some problems. Lars von Trier has always been pretty good at keeping near-ethereal directorial atmospherics tightly realized enough to sustain adequate entertainment value, and by "always", I mean that he kept entertainment value going at least as far back as this film, which, alas, still has its share of dry spells which derive from moments in which von Trier runs out of material to thoughtfully draw upon within a script by him and Niels Vørsel that does, in fact, have certain aimless plotting aspects and other questionable storytelling touches. The film drags its feet quite a few times, and it certainly saves time by cutting back on exposition, at least early on, thinning down immediate development that gradual exposition ought to have difficulty compensating for, considering that the storyline is a little too convoluted for you to look all that deeply into it as it unevenly unravels. You kind of get used to the film's mythology and plot, perhaps because the lack of immediate development plays an instrumental part on confusing audiences to he focus of this neo-noir, yet the fact of the matter is that it is a little hard to keep up with this effort, partly because the style that drives much of the progression of this art drama gets to be a little hard to keep up with. I've always commended von Trier for getting really experimental as an artistic filmmaker, without getting too carried away with his abuse of artistic license, but he has enough difficulty keeping consistent in such a manner now, and sure enough, with this, first feature, he definitely has moments in his storytelling stylizing that feels more uneven than dynamic, jarring the film around varying levels of grounding as a drama. I would perhaps find it easier to embrace the film's uneven style if the extreme stylistic heights didn't go too far, certainly not the certain point of tedium that has plagued many films of this nature, and managed to rarely touch von Trier's efforts, but decidedly to a point that overpowers substance, with an aesthetic value that is too problematic to be all that engaging. On the whole, the film is engaging with both style and substance, but von Trier has difficulty in keeping a realized grip on his vision, resulting in an uneven and overstylized affair that gradually loses momentum. Of course, the final product certainly doesn't lose so much momentum that it fails to hold your investment, to some degree or another, throughout its course, especially aesthetically. The Cannes Film Festival's first of many accolades granted to a note in Lars von Trier's filmography was the Technical Grand Prize, and I can sure see that, as Tom Elling's cinematography is nothing short of breathtaking, seemingly taking notes from Jordan Cronenweth's visual style for "Blade Runner" with a prominent orange sepia palette that, when combined with classic noirish tastes in sparse lighting, craft a unique visual style whose sheer distinctiveness, alone, is haunting. The film is beautiful, make no mistake, being more effective with visual style than storytelling style, yet still not getting so misguided with its artistic license that substance in lost in style. Now, in all honesty, the story concept's unconventional interpretation overshadows many of its tropes, but that's not to say that the narrative doesn't intrigue on paper, juggling a tense noir story with deep, philosophical themes on humanity, and presenting potential that is, in a lot of ways, both betrayed and fulfilled by von Trier's and Niels Vørsel's script, which is undercooked, convoluted and often occupied with storytelling style over substance, but generally sharp with both dialogue and a subtle exploration of intriguing thematic depths that immerse you into many of the meanings behind this artistic endeavor. In a lot of ways, storytelling's deeper, more thematic attributes are pretty immersive, yet they wouldn't be so effective if they completely overpowered human elements to scripting that go reinforced by characterization which, while undercooked and often toned down for the sake of style's prominence, is extensive enough to draw memorable, if conventional noir characters. If nothing else brings life to the character types who drive the less overtly stylish narrative aspects, it's the performances, most all of which are charismatic, particularly that of leading man Michael Elphick, whose noirish presence ought to help in immersing audiences in this character study. Of course, the leading performance which may truly save the film is the very one who overambition shakes a lot of the drama's engagement value, for although von Trier's direction has its share of overstylized or overly dry touches which distance, when it's realized, it's pretty solid, with effective style that goes anchored by immersive framing and intriguing visuals, all behind plays on the aforementioned outstanding cinematography, as well as with tighter spots in thoughtfulness that further draw you into the atmosphere of this film, compelling, if not inspiring some tension and intellectual intrigue. The film is often too smart for its own good, but von Trier, for an up-and-coming artistic filmmaker taking on a challenging project, he feels comfortable enough with his juggling of captivating style and gripping substance to engage adequately, if improvably. In the end, slow spells, underdevelopment and some convolution betray substance's value almost as much as uneven storytelling styles, some of which get too carried away for substance to survive enough for the final product to transcend underwhelmingness, challenged enough by stellar cinematography, intriguing themes, clever scripting, charismatic performances, and stylistically and dramatically thoughtful direction to make "The Element of Crime" a serviceably engaging and worthy breakthrough for Lars von Trier as a feature filmmaker, despite its shortcomings. 2.5/5 - Fair
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • Mar 28, 2014
    Unfortunately, Lars cannot save the bad ensemble. Being the first feature film from one of my favourite directors, I tried to be positive and endure the film. But no, the dialogues were badly written, the neo noir lighting was painful to watch and the imagery was pretentious. The fact that Egyptian doctor constantly remind the audience he is there annoyed me greatly. Various other characters/actors are annoying too. The only thing I enjoyed was the steampunk set design and the unconventional camera angles. Good intention but was just not satisfying at all. (I swear to God I will personally destroy all the phones in the world after viewing this film)
    Sylvester K Super Reviewer
  • Feb 17, 2013
    From what I've seen Lars Von Trier either makes great films or mediocre films, this is the worse one though. The lay out was interesting, with an orange creme filter over the footage, and an intriguing story line. The film itself though quickly tried to hard to feel surreal. It made it feel phony. Then there's the performance by Elphick, who was just a dreadful lead actor. The film ended up collapsing onto its fancy uniform, the protagonist contradicted himself and the film failed. 2 stars-
    Daniel D Super Reviewer
  • Nov 11, 2011
    The first great film to combine a sepia tone with film-noir shadows in order to conceive Europe as a post-apocalyptic barren land on the verge of complete anarchic disorder. Trier uses the archetypical detective with confronted emotions and priorities to highlight his vicious-circle story. Very underrated twist on the genres it treats, including the first use of the director's trademark: hypnosis. 97/100
    Edgar C Super Reviewer

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