How HBO's The Investigation Sets a New Standard For True Crime Dramas

Director Tobias Lindholm re-tells the story of the disappearance of journalist Kim Wall in the gripping HBO series The Investigation, which stands out from the typical true crime series.

By Cydney Contreras Mar 07, 2021 11:00 PMTags
Watch: The Truth Behind Our Obsession With True Crime Stories

When Swedish journalist Kim Wall went missing in the summer of 2017, speculation ran rampant about the nature of her disappearance.

According to her partner, the 30-year-old journalist had climbed aboard an interview subject's submarine on the night of Aug. 17, 2017. That was the last time she was seen alive.

In the months that followed, Copenhagen police conducted an extensive and thorough investigation into her disappearance, sending divers into frigid waters, interviewing dozens of witnesses and pushing the boundaries of everything they thought they knew about being detectives. 

Their work has been retold by Danish actors Søren Malling and Pilou Asbæk in HBO's scripted drama The Investigation. Malling portrays a sobering detective Jens Møller, the Head of Homicide for the Copenhagen Police, while Asbæk plays overworked prosecutor Jakob Buch-Jepsen.

Moller and Buch-Jepsen, as well as Wall's parents, Ingrid and Joachim Wall, who are portrayed by Pernilla August and Rolf Lassgård, spoke to director and screenwriter Tobias Lindholm about those long, hard months, which aided in creating an accurate representation of what really happened.

Craziest True Crime TV Moments

However, one person from the actual investigation who is not featured or even mentioned in the scripted drama is the murderer himself. As the director explained to The Wrap, "he didn't really matter" to the story.

All that one really needs to know is the murderer was an eccentric Danish entrepreneur, who was well-known in the Copenhagen BDSM community.

The latter detail was largely exploited by the media, and led to speculation about the nature of Wall's relationship with her killer. 

Tom Wall/Polfoto via ZUMA Press

Before meeting with the detectives and Wall's parents, Lindholm said on the HBO podcast Behind the Investigation that he only knew of those sordid details through reports by the press. But once Moller told him about the "heroes of society that stood together," he knew he had to write this series as "proof of light in the darkness."

That being said, Lindholm revealed on the podcast that he "never intended to tell Kim's story," adding, "That's up to Ingrid, Joachim... and the rest of the people that knew Kim."

"I saw it as my job to tell the stories of the investigators, all the professional people solving this case," he explained. "And then, introducing [a] glimpse of the life of the parents, the relatives when their lives were relevant for the investigation." 

Ole Jensen/Getty Images

He added another layer of emotional intensity by casting the very same individuals who lived through those moments, from the divers who discovered her remains to the family dog Iso that got Joachim and Ingrid through the most difficult time of their lives.

Then, there's Lindholm's styling and choice of editing, which sets The Investigation apart from other series. 

It's the antithesis to other procedurals, in which somber music and dramatic speeches typically create an immense amount of suspense. In The Investigation, there's almost no background noise to the scenes and more often than not, the characters react with silence or stare with glazed eyes. 

The result is sobering, and maintains the viewer's attention by enabling them to feel the weight of every development in the case, thus becoming invested in the show's outcome.


Lindholm told The Wrap that by working with real people from the case, "Suddenly, I understood that in this darkness that we all were obsessed with back in 2017… There was this story about life and about human sacrifice and friendship and loyalty and all the things that we value in life." 

In telling this tragic story, Lindholm set the standard for true crime dramas to come. 

The Investigation is available now on HBO Max.