One question lingers throughout the two-hour runtime of Cold Case Hammarskjöld. It's not whether former United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld died in an unfortunate plane accident or was killed by international conspirators, it's the one posed by documentarian Mads Brügger near the beginning. Is this the greatest ever murder mystery or the world's best conspiracy theory?
It's a hypothesis that can be applied to his film as much as it can to the case initially at its centre. Brügger's quest to learn what happened to Hammarskjöld begins with an attempt to uncover the plane's wreckage to learn if there is a chance his plane was shot down or sabotaged, while exploring some of the prominent theories about what may have happened.
Yet his style is far from straightforward. Recounting the events of his journey to two separate secretaries working on typewriters whilst he is dressed all in white, Brügger appears to be editing and musing about his work live on screen. He debates with his secretaries over the validity of the information he uncovers, disjointedly piecing together years of interviewing "liver-spotted white men" to try and find answers.
It becomes clear that the unusual narrative Brügger has deployed is because the case is far more complicated than anticipated, his self-aware narration raising doubts about the point of the film halfway through. The first half is peppered with moments of comedy as a result, Brügger keeping things light in a brazen attempt at maintaining interest.
He then unveils a twist that sends the story down a different path, revealing unsettling revelations that uses Hammarskjöld's death as a springboard to expose dark secrets from Africa's past - revelations that, if true, would make this one of the most impactful documentaries of the decade.
For a film, it's a deeply encapsulating story, Brügger proving a master at commanding your attention as he pulls every disparate strand together into one tight knot.
Yet, as a piece of journalism, it veers too far into the conspiracy theory genre. Dag Hammarskjöld's death ends up playing second fiddle to a wider mystery which asks more questions than it answers, with little proof besides the narrative Brügger has created. Key parts of the Hammarskjöld case are openly skimmed over because they make for a less interesting story than what the film-maker has discovered on the side.
Brügger has crafted something entertaining, chilling and totally captivating, but by presenting a conspiracy theory as the answer to a murder mystery, he makes it easier for his entire project to be disregarded.
Cold Case Hammarskjöld
Director: Mads Brügger
Running Time: 128 minutes
Verdict: An entertaining and shocking, if factually uncertain, documentary