Wallander: The Man Who Smiled (2010)
Well, here we go with Wallander: The Man Who Smiled (2010) which was published as Mannen som log by Henning Mankell, the fourth in the series of novels now adapted by Yellow Bird. Those of you who have read the previous reviews will understand my sentiments when I report the first few minutes of this episode are not auspicious. Once we’ve passed by the prologue which past experience tells us is a murder, we join a depressed Kurt Wallander (Kenneth Branagh) walking along the seashore. Perhaps not unnaturally, he’s still a bit upset about the last episode in which it was necessary for him to shoot the right-wing killer in the head. He’s taken a life and, for him, that means passing over an intellectual and emotional red line. The result is a desire to torture himself. As a film director, Kenneth Branagh should really have been able to team up with Cecil B. DeMille because, between them, they do old-style despair in cinemascope with an epic cast of thousands weeping, wailing, rending their garments and gnashing their teeth. In the midst of this, an old acquaintance arrives. He thinks his father was murdered (as we’ve seen in the prologue). The police think it was a car accident — no surprise from the young Magnus Martinsson (Tom Hiddleston). Can his friend please look into it? Wallander momentarily looks out through lost eyes, bleakly shakes his head, and then wanders off into the gathering gloom except, as a memento of this conversation, he takes away the car keys that were apparently found on the car floor after the alleged accident.
Throughout the remaining half of the episode, we see him washing down medication with various types of alcohol. The man is a wreck. Yet he recognises car keys do not just fall out of the ignition on impact. The keys have to be turned before they can be pulled out. Armed with this fact, he goes to the police pound (which is wonderfully picturesque on a cliff top where the salt from the sea air will rust everything into pieces over a winter). In the boot, he finds a chair with three legs. When he goes to the scene of the accident, he finds the fourth leg halfway down the slope the car careened down. When he turns up at the police station, he discovers the friend who came to see him has been found hanging in his office. This is obviously not a coincidence, so he demands his warrant card and his gun (leaving the bullets in his desk drawer) and sets off to investigate. Thank God for the pills and the booze to keep him going. While he’s gone, Nyberg (Richard McCabe) reautopsies father and son (they always keep bodies in the morgue for a long time just in case depressed detectives turn up unexpectedly and ask for a second look). They both have exactly the same injury to the throat which is probably caused by a blow rather than a car accident or hanging. So the prologue really was a murder!
Actually, when he visits his demented father, Povel Wallander (David Warner) the old codger has exactly the right idea. He takes one look at his worthless son and gives him a slap around the head for being such an idiot. However, the episode then manages to crawl back from oblivion through the introduction of two new characters. Anders Ekman (Vincent Regan) was a policeman who killed a young woman in a driving accident. He went through serious depression when dismissed from the force but was rescued by an offer of security work for Alfred Harderberg (Rupert Graves), a millionaire philanthropist who runs a major charity in Africa. Ekman is desperate to get back into the police force and discusses guilt and despair with Wallander. Harderberg makes life and death decisions about how his aid money is to be used, which lives are to be saved and which lives have to be sacrificed. For once, this is interesting and has an effect on the rational part of Wallander’s mind. No matter how depressed DeMille wants Branagh to be, the actor can see when the self-pity is defeating his character’s obsessional desire to solve the damn case — which he should have been focusing on from the outset. For once, he shrugs off most of the guilt that his friend might still be alive had he listened when they spoke on the seashore, and does enough to get the evidence Magnus Martinsson so conspicuously failed to look for.
We then have a tediously melodramatic and wholly unrealistic ending in which Wallander fails to send squadrons of police and alert the Swedish air force in case planes need to be intercepted. Instead, he makes a lone drive for miles, climbs over a gate, and runs like he’s having a heart attack. Shots are fired leaving dead and wounded but, somehow and despite this ludicrous ending, Wallander: The Man Who Smiled turned out to be quite an impressive episode. Having been to the edge, I hope Wallander now has the sense to brighten up a little — fat chance of that, you may think — but if Kenneth Branagh could get help from the likes of Vincent Regan and Rupert Graves, both of whom were impressive, there’s hope for us all.
For reviews of other films and television programs by Yellow Bird:
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest or Luftslottet som sprängdes (2009)
The Girl Who Played With Fire or Flickan som lekte med elden (2009)
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo or Män som hatar kvinnor (2009)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Headhunters or Hodejegerne (2011)
Wallander: Before the Frost (2012)
Wallander: The Dogs of Riga (2012)
Wallander: An Event in Autumn (2012)
Wallander: Faceless Killers (2010)
Wallander: The Fifth Woman (2010)
Wallander: Firewall (2009)
Wallander: One Step Behind (2008)
Wallander: Sidetracked (2009)