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Wallander: Faceless Killers (2010)

October 13, 2012 2 comments

Wallander: Faceless Killers (2010) is the fourth adaptation to be shown but it was the first novel written by Henning Mankell in the Wallander series. It’s called Mördare utan ansikte in the Swedish. As adaptations go, it requires considerable surgery to make it fit into the series produced by Yellow Bird since we’ve already killed off one of the detectives who features in the novel, our hero’s daughter won’t speak to him, and his father’s illness is nowhere near dementia.

As a result, this episode is what my grandmother would have called a dog’s breakfast in that it takes a number of disparate elements and mixes them together in a somewhat haphazard fashion. We spend the entire episode existentially trapped inside this manic depressive’s head with everything filtered through his warped view of the world. We start off with Linda Wallander (Jeany Spark) and her new Syrian boyfriend, Jamal (Arsher Ali) having a bite to eat and a little alcohol with Kurt Wallander (Kenneth Branagh). This is Daddy’s second meeting with the suitor and, because Daddy has the social skills of a brick, the meeting is not exactly the success the daughter would have liked. Indeed, both daughter and Daddy accuse him of being a closet racist — to avoid ambiguity here, the “him” in this sentence is Daddy accusing himself of racism. Indeed, the rest of the episode then takes the notion of racism and beats it over the head with a blunt instrument until it’s presumed dead. For the record, in the novels, Wallander is a liberal on most political issues including immigration and isn’t a racist.

Kenneth Branagh as the wheel turns

We start off with the brutal torture and murder of an old couple in a run-down farm house. The wife is clinging on to life as Wallander asks her, “Who did this to you?” Our old thing does her best. Her lips and teeth move in a way that suggests the word will begin with an “f” but the camera cuts as the breath comes out of her mouth and before he can say, “What? Speak more clearly, please.” she’s been and gone and died on him. He then spends the rest of the episode agonising over whether she uttered the word, “Foreigners”. In the aftermath of his daughter (and himself) accusing him of being a racist, he doesn’t want to believe he’s misinterpreting what the dying lady said. It could have been “Farmer” or “Philip II of Spain” even though he’s been dead a few centuries. As an aside, a white horse kept on the farm has broken loose. Unfortunately what should have been kept confidential is leaked to the press by Peters (Tom McCall), a naive young police officer. Needless to say, right-wing extremists use this as an excuse to start harassing and killing immigrant workers. As a metaphor for the news escaping, the white horse keeps appearing on the horizon as Wallander makes repeated visits to the farm to try to work out who could have killed the couple. Or perhaps it’s a metaphor for Wallander who feels trapped and inadequate and wants to range free across the farmlands of picturesque Sweden without responsibilities.

Richard McCabe makes a breakthrough and talks with Wallander

And adding to his problems, Gertrude Wallander (Polly Hemingway) telephones to report Povel Wallander (David Warner) has been found wandering around the countryside in his pyjamas. Appropriately, immigrant farm workers took pity on him and took him to the hospital where Jamal is on hand to translate (I forgot to mention that Jamal is a doctor). As we might expect, Wallander is full of thanks and eternally grateful, making these Good Samaritans feel they have done the right thing. Well, that’s what he might like to think his few grunts communicated. Later he and loyal sidekick, Anne-Britt Hoglund (Sarah Smart), go to his parent’s home where his father is burning the easel and the furniture from his studio. Curiously, it’s Nyberg (Richard McCabe) who breaks through the social barrier and actually sits down with Wallander to eat a pizza. It’s just a shame neither of them has any money to pay for it. Later, they also talk about the possibility he is a racist (that’s Wallander still agonising) and still not doing anything about his father who is not, of course, a foreigner.

Jeany Spark and Arsher Ali making a political point

Anyway, while visiting a bank to draw out money to pay for the pizza, Wallander has an eureka moment and realises it was Philip of Spain who did it (or perhaps it was foreigners — I was a bit past caring at this point). He also has the good sense to shoot dead a right-wing extremist (in self-defence) and physically to attack the young constable for betraying everything he (Wallander) stands for (or at least some of the things he stands for since he often does nothing, suggesting he doesn’t really care enough to do anything except solve crimes). Even his father gets fed up and books himself into a secure mental hospital so he doesn’t have to see his useless son any more. I know how he feels (“he” being the father this time).

And the white horse gets so depressed on the night the crimes are solved, he throws himself in front of a van and is killed. I know how he feels (that’s the horse, of course). I’m not denying the solution to the murder of the couple is quite clever. It’s one of these “in plain sight” crimes except it takes a Wallander to see where the trees are standing tallest in the wood. The killing of immigrants is just a bolt-on element to make a few political points about immigration and generally torture our hero. So, it all ends unhappily with Wallander handing in his badge and gun, and walking out of the police station (presumably as he’s seen it done many times in US television and film stories). Frankly, I thought the right-wing fanatic deserved to die but, in Sweden, the prosecutors are notoriously tough. As a final thought, since this was the first novel, the rookie Magnus Martinsson (Tom Hiddleston) never does anything other than lurk in the background. Such are the trials and tribulations of stars before they get their big breaks (as Norse anti-hero, Loki, of course). So, to sum up, the television adaptation of Faceless Killers is poor.

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: The Fifth Woman (2010)
Wallander: Firewall (2009)
Wallander: The Man Who Smiled (2010)
Wallander: One Step Behind (2008)
Wallander: Sidetracked (2009)

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