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Wallander: Sidetracked / Firewall / One Step Behind
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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.]]>
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"Sidetracked" opens with a brilliantly staged scene in which Wallander fails to prevent a young woman from self-immolation in a sunlit field of flowers. He is also beset by a series of murders in the local art business, and by the health issues of his estranged father. Only Wallander can see the connections, which lead to a deadly sex ring and a surprising killer.
"Firewall" opens with the seemingly senseless murder of a taxi driver by two young women. As other bodies start to pile up, Wallander picks at a strange statement by one of the two young women, who escapes from police custody and then is herself horribly murdered. Wallander's persistance leads him to an unorthodox terrorist plot, and a betrayal by a friend.
"One Step Behind" involves Wallander in the deaths of several young persons who were connected with a midsummer's eve celebration. Additional deaths lead Wallander into a wider case in which the police seem constantly one step behind the killer or killers.
This series was filmed in Sweden, which makes for some beautiful location shooting. The sets are contrasted with some grim social rot in Swedish society, as exemplified by the gritty portrayal of Ystad society. Wallander's crew, all British actors, provide low-key support to Branagh's haggard and unshaven lead detective. His personal suffering over each case and over a personal life seemingly in shambles, imparts a gray tone to the stories that may be unsettling to some viewers. However, the stories are intricately plotted and thrillingly concluded; Branagh carries the day in a fascinating portrayal. This series is very highly recommended to fans of PBS Masterpiece Mystery looking for something different in a police procedural.
Like many of the better installments on PBS's Masterpiece Mystery, there is an intelligence here, and a deliberate choice of substance over flash. It makes for mystery as much about the characters as the plot. The tone is somber, and Branagh gives a subtle performance of a detective throwing himself in his work, because he's numb from events in his private life. Wallander appears to almost sleepwalk through his life when we first get acquainted with him. He feels responsible for a young girl's horrific death in the opening moments of Sidetracked, which sets the tone for the series. The image of her setting herself on fire in a field haunts him and drives him to discover why.
Meanwhile, the director slowly shows Wallander's private life. He lives with his grown daughter, who basically takes care of him when he comes home because he's a mess. Emotionally frozen from events in his real life, picking up the phone at home is a big deal for him, because it is someone who knows him, rather than about work. He is an excellent detective, yet nearly paralyzed outside the lines which form that perimeter. Each installment is balanced by a riveting mystery and layers of Wallander's private life are slowly pealed away. In Firewall, for instance, his daughter Linda (Jeany Spark) attempts to get him to "move on" after his marriage has failed by enrolling him in an internet dating site. At the same time, the murder of a taxi driver by two young girls and ominous words about it not even mattering lead him to a plot that will create utter chaos around the globe if he can't put a stop to it. How these two stories intersect is poignant and devastating for Wallander and the viewer.
Wallander's relationships with his daughter, his artistic father who may have deeper problems than he realized and many other things round out a portrait of a man who is his work because it's all he has to hang on to. Branagh is magnificent as he is rumpled in his interior rather than his exterior, and manages to convey this. The mysteries are deeply involving and intelligent, and a cast which includes Sarah Smart, Sadie Shimmin, Tom Hiddleston, and Tom Beard are well played. But there is no doubt this is Branagh's show, as this is about Wallander. The direction and look of the show fit with the character of Wallander so that he seems to fit into this world. Or is it that this is how his world is? It may not grab those looking for flash, but those who find intelligence and character development in their mysteries preferable will eat this up. A fine installment of PBS's Masterpiece Mystery.