A teen girl sits shivering in a field of
tall yellow flowers. Is it coincidence that it's a field
of what we call canola, but the Swedes go ahead and refer
to as "rape"? When Police Inspector Kurt Wallander (Kenneth
Branagh) approaches her and identifies himself, she douses
herself in gasoline and burns before the horrified man's
The BBC's Wallander movies certainly
grip from the get-go. But there's also a leisurely pace
to them, as much trying to make points about the Swedish
society in which they're set as solving the crimes with
which Wallander and his crew get entangled.
Shot with the RED digital camera, the films
have a combination of high resolution with soft focus that
makes them seem like a throwback to seventies films, right
down to the production design. Wallander walks his beat
in a Sweden that has paid the price for an ugly undercurrent
to the promise of social progress. It's a little arrested
in time, and one teen in the second installment, "Firewall,"
claims that "…there is no future."
While feeling Swedish yet with British
accents, that feeling of loss and being lost knows no boundaries.
Kurt Wallander is a cop we can identify with, not some super-genius
investigator, but rather a plodder. Death rattles him, and
a gentle grief seems to always be roiling underneath Branagh's
face, ready to vomit forth when things seem to be one tragedy
There seems to be a focus on the next generation,
with Wallander awkwardly trying to build a relationship
with his daughter Linda (Jeany Spark) and mentor the callow
detective Martinsson (Tom Hiddleston). And even when the
crimes they focus on aren't about children, they seem to
be. In addition to that girl in the rape field, the second
film begins with two blood-soaked teens walking away from
a taxicab, and their disaffection drives the plot.
Some of those plots, obviously, aren't
going to be easy to be one step ahead of as you adjust to
the local references and turns that require an understanding
of Swedish society. Instead, what will hold you is a solid
performance by Branagh, since it really is his show, with
able supporting turns. In the first film, "Sidetracked,"
we get a bonus of several scenes with David Warner as Wallander's
father, and for theater geeks, it's something to watch two
seminal Hamlets share the screen, ferociously tearing into
And yet it's subtle, not about scene chewing. The ensemble
work is top-notch. Of course, for readers of Fanboy Planet,
Wallander is also worth picking up because Branagh
pulled Hiddleston out of this cast and tapped him to play
Loki in the upcoming Thor film. Though the character
of Martinsson isn't evil at all, Hiddleston has a sinuousness
that could easily stretch into the God of Mischief.
Watching the extras on this DVD reminds
me of the Eddie Izzard line - "do you people even know
there are other countries?" They're not just a glimpse at
another culture; it's an education to discover that these
well-made television films, shown in the U.S. under the
"Masterpiece Mystery" banner, are adapted from an internationally
best-selling series of Swedish crime novels.
Apparently for the U.K., these were a very
big deal, the first time the "Wallander" novels had been
filmed in English after 22 Swedish films. What you'll notice
in the extras over and over is how big a deal everybody
involved thinks it is. Focus instead on the films included
here; they're good thrillers with good actors, and later
you can pick up the books.
UPDATE 5/6/2011: How the heck did I miss this? A second set of Wallander hit stores -- so you can get double the Branagh/Hiddleston.