Wallander: Sidetracked / Firewall / One Step Behind
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Wallander: Sidetracked, Firewall, One Step Behind (DVD)
Kenneth Branagh plays Swedish detective Kurt Wallander in three new crime dramas based on the best-selling books by Henning Mankell, an international publishing phenomenon with over 25 million copies sold worldwide. Sidetracked, Firewall, and One Step Behind follow Inspector Kurt Wallander - a disillusioned everyman - as he struggles against a rising tide of violence in the seemingly sleepy backwaters in and around Ystad in beautiful southern Sweden. Baffling crimes and apparently motiveless murders lead to surprising and shocking discoveries in these Swedish noir thrillers.]]>
Giving a rare and welcome television leading role to Kenneth Branagh, Wallander is about a Swedish detective who is brought to the screen in three 90-minute adventures based on the hugely popular novels by Henning Mankell. Branagh takes the title role, and he's Wallander's leading asset. His performance is grumpy and downbeat, and he skillfully underplays his role. It's a terrific performance from a very strong actor. Around him, mysterious and shocking crimes are taking place, and it's his job to get to the bottom of them. He's aided by a good, if unspectacular, supporting cast, although nods must go to Sarah Smart and Tom Hiddleston. Filmed on location in Sweden, yet still more British in feel than you'd perhaps expect, Wallander nonetheless is intelligent and at times gripping drama. It's well made, too, with some stylish directional choices that may isolate some viewers, but do enhance the production. There's clearly been a lot of thought and planning involved here, and it pays dividends. That said, Wallander is likely to be a divisive show. It eschews quite a few of the conventions of the genre, instead playing things more downbeat than we've become accustomed to. Naturally, this is also what strengthens it. And, combined with Branagh in excellent form, Wallander at its best is both brilliant, and a little bit different, and it's very much worth checking out. --Jon Foster
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Kenneth Branagh's portrayal of Wallander is a pleasure to watch because his performances are so nuanced, conveying a full range of emotion - you can see what the main character is thinking as events unfold. Wallander's life sucks. His father has Alzheimer's, his wife dumped him, his daughter resents him for never being available. He is drunk, obsessive, guilt-ridden, and anxious - some other reviewers have said "overwrought," but I feel this is what makes him an interesting character - the point of the series being not so much solving the standard crime-show mysteries, but riding along with Wallander through all of his tribulations and inner turmoil. Unlike in the typical cop shows, wherein the characters shrug off murders and wise-crack over the corpses they find, he is deeply affected by horrors he witnesses at his job, and seems perpetually on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
I tend to like dramas that are gritty, arty, grim, bleak, depressing, moody, or in some other way emotionally true (if not factually believable, necessarily). I loved the show "The Wire," and I think this is of similar quality. I also liked "Band of Brothers," and "The Pacific," "Mad Men," and the first season of "Six Feet Under," all of which I mention so that you will have some idea of what appeals to me, and hence whether your taste is similar. "Wallander" is such a bummer it makes "Foyle's War" look a little like "Murder She Wrote," and that's what makes it awesome.
It's a kick to watch Kenneth Branagh - one of the world's truly outstanding Shakespearean actors - transform from a hyperverbal practitioner of literature's best known soliloquies to a monosyllabic, stammering mope. He's put on weight for the role, doesn't shave, does nothing to hide facial outbreaks on his face, wears rumpled clothing 24x7, drinks too much wine, sleeps in chairs and wakes up fully clothed with crevices on his face from the armrest. It's quite an acting achievement.
Season 1 - and the two to-date that follow - are adapted directly from Henning Mankell's novels. [Branagh says Mankell's a fan of the productions.] What's good is that having now got up to speed on the nine productions so far, we can double-down and take on the Swedish TV series featuring Krister Henriksson. That work featured new material by Mankell: a screenplay he wrote to kick off the series followed by plot assistance from the author for the episodes that followed. [There was also an earlier film series in Swedish featuring Rolf Lassgård as the lead. The Branagh series matches up with those.]
You really can't comment on this series without noting the quirkiest aspect of the adaptation: despite being in English, the show is still based in Ystad, Sweden. These most British of actors (other notables are Saskia Reeves, Tom Hiddleston) are solving Swedish crimes, living Swedish lives, perusing Swedish documents. There's the hilarious little artifice of Branagh's character reading a document or sign in Swedish, so he has to read out loud in English so that we, the audience, can understand what his character is seeing. [No subtitles here.] It's not meant to be funny, but it brings a laugh every time the filmmakers are forced to resort to it. Still, great stuff all around.