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Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
he thing with “Wallander” is that it creates a wholly believable world which does not exist. It’s set and filmed in a very real locality – Ystad, Sweden – but the real Ystad isn’t the evil, dangerous place of these films. Oh well. Ystad may as well be another world as far as I’m concerned, and so I don’t let the facts get in the way of the fiction. When the fiction is as interesting as it is in “Wallander,” that isn’t a difficult task.
Many actors go about the business of acting for years and years, gaining plenty of notoriety and fame along the way, but never truly finding that one role that really fits them. Aside from being known as “that Shakespeare guy,” Branagh might be one of those actors, and although it still may be too early to make the call, Kurt Wallander could very well be that elusive role for Branagh. Over the course of six 90-minute TV movies, he’s come to own this part. Actually, he pretty much owned it after the first three, but this new trilogy further cements that truth. These films are completely dependent on his performance, which is always played inward. While the viewer is probably supposed to be concentrating on the facts of the case, it’s all too easy to instead focus on “What is he thinking?” from scene to scene. It can’t be an easy job Branagh has in bringing Wallander to life, and he makes it seem effortless and painful simultaneously.
Kicking off this batch is “Faceless Killers,” a story heavily dependent on racism of several kinds. When an elderly couple are ruthlessly beaten and killed, Wallander shows up at the crime scene just before the old woman passes. There’s just enough time for him to ask “Who did this to you?” He can’t quite make out what she says, but later on at the station, he suggests that she may have said “foreigner.” This gets out to the press, much to Wallander’s disapproval, and all hell breaks loose for the local migrant workers. Add to the fact that Wallander’s daughter Linda (Jeany Spark) is now dating a non-Swede, which he’s clearly uncomfortable with, and he’s forced to consider his own unconscious racist attitudes. Did he hear the old woman say “foreigner” because of his problems with Linda’s boyfriend, or because that may be what she said?
“The Man Who Smiled” begins with Wallander off the force – seemingly for quite some time – due to an incident in the first story (that shall not be talked about here). He’s depressed and not sure if he ever wants to return to police work. When the father of an old friend of his is murdered, the friend comes to Wallander for help. Wallander refuses. It’s not until the friend is murdered as well that Wallander is forced to get his act together and get to the bottom of the grisly goings-on.
The final offering is titled “The Fifth Woman,” and here Wallander must tackle the case of a serial killer who’s using some awfully creative methods to off some very horrible men. More so than the previous series, this is a definite trilogy, and should be watched in order, as Wallander’s personal life takes quite the beating as the stories progress. In particular, the ongoing story of his Alzheimer-riddled father (David Warner) reaches its conclusion in the final tale of this batch, and yet the trilogy ends on a potentially upbeat note for this most depressed and uptight of detectives.
Kudos to Branagh (as well as the rest of the regular cast and crew) for sticking with this series, as it’s a real gem. They’ve found a comfortable groove and hopefully will continue to make more of these. If I had to lodge a minor complaint against “Wallander” at this point, it’s that even at 90 minutes, these stories feel a tad too short, and on a few occasions there seemed to be some narrative leaps that weren’t well explained. They are based on Swedish books, and one wonders if maybe a little something isn’t getting lost in translation. Then again, this may be a direct reaction to having recently watched all of “Prime Suspect,” which is the granddaddy of modern British procedurals, so maybe I’m holding it to an unfair standard. Whatever it is, it’s minor, and isn’t keeping me from really enjoying this stuff, assuming enjoyment is even the right word to use.
Special Features: The first “Wallander” disc was loaded with extras. Not so this time around. Here we get only two featurettes, both of which are good nevertheless. “Wallander Country” is a look at what it takes to put this show together in Ystad, and how the locals have reacted to having the BBC shooting in their little burg. “Being Kurt Wallander” is a series of interviews with the Branagh and the rest of the cast.