REVIEW: ‘The Unlikely Murderer’ Is Unlikely To Keep You Interested

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The Unlikely Murderer - But Why Tho

The Unlikely Murderer is a Swedish Netflix Original mini-series about the murder of Prime Minister Olaf Palme in 1986 and how its most likely suspect, Stig Engström (Robert Gustafsson) might have gotten away with it. Based on the book by Thomas Pettersson, police named Engström their prime suspect in 2020, but the murder remains unsolved.

There are two things that must be said about The Unlikely Murderer: that it is a magnificently produced series, and it absolutely too long. The cinematography in this series is top-notch. Every shot feels worthy of an Oscar-winning film. The costuming and makeup are absolutely impressive as well. Gustafsson’s transformation into Engström is completely spot-on, as is the aging and de-aging that certain characters exhibit over the time periods the series displays. It’s altogether excellently constructed, visually.

The problem is, that it is absolutely a slog. The series has five episodes about 40 minutes long on average and from one end of most episodes to another, very little new happens. The forward-moving plot is constantly interrupted by either flashbacks to earlier in Engström’s life or flashforwards to Pettersson’s own investigation beginning in 2016. While it’s a useful tactic for lengthening the film and making the subject feel more human, it also drags the show on a great deal. The biggest issue though is that the show is hamstrung by reality.

The Unlikely Murderer is legally required to explain that the police have closed the investigation and that, since he died in 2000, Engström remains unprosecuted, despite their formal statement that he was the likely murderer. Plus, the show very clearly shows Engström killing Olaf in the first moments of the series. There’s no suspense or disbelief, no questioning whether Engström really did it or not. The filmmakers are sure of it and want you to be sure of it too. So you’re left with an approach to telling the story that relies on the viewer setting aside what they already know, or the preconceptions they’re bias towards, and simply demonstrates over more than three hours the more than three-decade debacle over investigating the murder and the intimate examination of Engström as a person.

I’m just not sure the point in making the series so long and deliberate with Engström as the focal point nearly the whole way through. If we were meant to empathize with Engström, the series probably wouldn’t be focused on framing him as the murderer. If the point is to make the audience feel completely sure he did it, well, the series’ bias is evident from the first moments and only becomes more clear as it goes on. If you were already skeptical of Engström’s guilt, you won’t likely be convinced here. And if you already thought he was the murderer, well, you’ll be impressed by the truly praiseworthy appearance of he film, but bored by the longwinded path to reiterating the same two points over and over: Engström was suspiciously inconsistent and eager to share details nobody can corroborate, and the people in charge of the investigation were totally incompetent and botched it entirely.

The Unlikely Murderer is a visually impressive slog through a remarkably interesting story that would have been better suited in the form of a film so as to hold interest and not rehash the same points too many times over.

The Unlikely Murderer is streaming now on Netflix.


The Unlikely Murderer
  • 6/10
    Rating - 6/10
6/10

TL;DR

The Unlikely Murderer is a visually impressive slog through a remarkably interesting story that would have been better suited in the form of a film so as to hold interest and not rehash the same points too many times over.