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Wallander: Before the Frost (2012)

November 19, 2012 Leave a comment

Wallander: Before the Frost (2012), adapted by Yellow Bird, was originally published as Innan frosten (2002) by Henning Mankell. For a change, it’s written with Linda Wallander as the lead character. Needless to say, with an international star like Kenneth Branagh on hand, the screen adaptation has to charge things around a little to make this final episode of the current series. So, as he ages, we get to see a slightly better adjusted Kurt Wallander who finds himself in with a chance of reconciliation with his daughter. If, as in the novel, she was graduating from the police academy and intended to join her local force and work with Daddy, all Hell would break loose on screen as their volatile relationship blossomed into professional jealousy. As it is, this daughter is pregnant and therefore guaranteed to make our emotional wreck of a Daddy go all gooey-eyed as granddaddydom beckons. Helping him make a break with the past, Anne-Britt Hoglund (Sarah Smart) decides to wake up from her coma and tells Kurt that he’s embarrassing everyone by hanging around the hospital, incapable of coherent speech and looking like guilt personified. She begs him to go away, preferably to a different continent but, if that’s not possible, just out of her life.

Jeany Spark doing her best to remain calm when she finds she not the star

This is yet another of these woefully contrived episodes in which everything links together to make a moralistic point. So, in this primitively black-and-white plot, we’re into religiously cultish behaviour spilling over into everyday Swedish life with a number of arson attacks — mostly property although there’s an initial attack on swans. So let’s break it down into easily digestible chunks. Our hero arrives home at night and greets the dog who’s locked inside all day. This is because all the women in his life have run off and he doesn’t want the dog to follow suit. But he’s just inside the door when the motion sensors outside suddenly illuminate a visitor. This is the ghostly Anna Westin (Maimie McCoy) who grew up best friends with his daughter, Linda Wallander (Jeany Spark). This would be two loopy teens together. Linda has married without having the common decency to tell Kurt let alone invite him to the wedding. As the other pea in the pod, Anna has been the eternal drop-out, constantly running away in search of her father. When he’s reported dead by suicide, she goes religious and even more loopy, wailing and crying at the funeral, and then leaving home (much to the relief of everyone except Linda). To keep the suspense going, her mother, Monika Westin (Lindsay Duncan) was never very forthcoming about the reason for the final breakdown in their relationship.

Anyway, we have this apparition at his door. She’s invited in and with the tact and sensitivity for which he’s rightly famous, Kurt Wallander says all the things most likely to drive her away. And, before you can blink, she’s disappeared as quickly as she appeared. Except there’s no sign of how she got there nor left. Anyway, minimally conscious he might have said the wrong thing, Wallander calls his daughter and, the next day, she appears, taking up residence in her friend’s empty flat rather than staying with Daddy. We now get into what we might call the meat of the episode. Following his instincts that something has disturbed Anna (it’s the first time he’s seen her since the funeral years earlier), Kurt goes to see her mother who suggests her daughter has begun a university course. Naturally, when this is checked out, she proves dropping out remains her priority but she has left behind a pamphlet suggesting she was attending a local mission which helps the homeless. In what’s supposed to be a parallel investigation, a burned body turns up by a lake. With the power of convergence only a scriptwriter can contrive, there’s a bible in the shallow grave. Fingerprints prove it was handled by a schizophrenic known to enjoy setting fire to stuff. A similarly annotated bible is found in Anna’s flat. Ah ha! Bank accounts show Anna was one of a number of people who gave cash to this nutter for the purchase of a house near the lake. This is all coming together now. So we chase everyone on the cash-giving list as one-by-one they kill themselves for “past sins”.

Kenneth Branagh just before he puts his put in it and starts a shooting match

As we’ve all come to expect, there’s an absurdly melodramatic confrontation at the end where death-wish Wallander walks into a house flooded with petrol to talk the ringleader of the group into giving up. With Anna and her mother now safe, Kurt can turn his attention to his own daughter and, with all the heart-felt sincerity we’ve come to expect from both sides, they end up going together to “see” the baby. I suppose this is a good place to finish the narrative arc as Kurt Wallander slowly rises from the depths of depression to something approximating the level of despair experienced by most of us as we struggle through life. He has the personality to flagellate himself at the sight of the next body or when the dog dies or he catches up with the news of Michael Jackson’s death. Perhaps if he has a grandchild to distract him, he can remain normal more of the time. I can’t say I’m even remotely impressed by these adaptations. What works reasonably well on the page has not been translated into anything even vaguely credible in this series. Frankly I’m relieved it’s over and I’m not excited by the news Kenneth Branagh may be going to make three more.

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: An Event in Autumn (2012)
Wallander: The Dogs of Riga (2012)
Wallander: Faceless Killers (2010)
Wallander: The Fifth Woman (2010)
Wallander: Firewall (2009)
Wallander: The Man Who Smiled (2010)
Wallander: One Step Behind (2008)
Wallander: Sidetracked (2009)

Wallander: The Dogs of Riga (2012)

November 11, 2012 Leave a comment

This another adaptation by Yellow Bird, this time of the second book by Henning Mankell, Hundarna i Riga. Well, for a brief few minutes, I thought the Wallander series had finally hit the jackpot. The Dogs of Riga (2012) started off in a way suggesting an interesting story and, for once, our hero, Kurt Wallander (Kenneth Branagh), acted like a human being. Yes, I know this is completely out of character but, when faced by someone equally depressed and distressed that he was responsible for some men’s deaths, Wallander invites the man back to his now empty farm house (Vanja Andersson (Saskia Reeves) has given up and left), cooks for him, and encourages him to “snap out of it”, “stop drinking himself to death” and more generally, “to get himself a life”. Now if only Wallander himself had tape-recorded this sage advice, he could play it back to himself on continuous loop and slow down on his own guilt trip for having so delicately placed Ann-Britt Hoglund (Sarah Smart) in a coma. Ah well, such are the idle thoughts of an old man watching a fictional young man act so self-destructively. So where are we with this episode?

Soren Malling showing just how well European actors can do angst

Instead of the rather more political commentary which infuses the novel, we’re off to Riga! It’s time for holiday snaps, copious beer drinking and the chanting of football slogans for whichever Swedish team you support (following in the footsteps of British hooligans, of course). We start off with the arrival of two dead bodies in an inflatable life raft on a Swedish beach. They’ve been towed into territorial waters and allowed to float into shore. Once Nyberg (Richard McCabe) gets their shirts off, it’s obvious they have been tortured and, from their tattoos, they are gang members from Latvia. Through Interpol, this brings the morose, chain-smoking Karlis Liepa (Søren Malling) to Sweden for a heart-to-heart with Wallander on guilt. These were his informers. He’s overcome with guilt they have died because of him. Pass the bottle of strong alcohol as we overdose on guilt. All this would have been rather tedious if some enterprising criminals had not broken into Swedish police HQ, ripped open the inflatable and taken the large quantity of heroin concealed there. Leaving some cryptic clues behind, our depressed Wallander-wannabe goes back to Latvia where he’s promptly shot in the head. A merciful release for us all, you might think. Two people simultaneously overdosing on guilt would have threatened the possibility of mass suicides in the viewing public. Now it’s Wallander’s turn to travel.

Ingeborga Dapkunaite facing the risk of becoming another victim of Wallander’s depression

I thought the first visit to Riga was handled reasonably effectively. Wallander’s natural paranoia serves him well and he suspects high-level corruption involving senior police officers. “Trust no-one” are his watchwords. When he’s satisfied there’s little more to be learned he goes back home and it’s at this point that the story drops off the cliff into disaster. So far in this series, we’ve endured the man as permanently on the verge of a mental breakdown and a social idiot, but we’ve been carried through by the acknowledgement he’s actually quite a shrewd operator who usually gets the right answers. Yet instead of acting professionally, talking the case over with his team, discovering who’s running the Swedish end of this unique drug import system, he goes home, makes a discovery and then gets straight on a plane back to Latvia. He doesn’t seem to tell anyone let alone take any precautions. This is the behaviour of a manic depressive with suicidal tendencies. At the very least you would imagine he would alert the Swedish Embassy in Latvia to the possibility someone might have to come and get him out of jail or give him a decent burial. But, no, he just goes back on his own and we’re then treated to one of the best examples of absurd melodrama I can recall sitting through for at least a year.

Kenneth Branagh speculating on whether he can swim to Latvia

There’s a lot of running around, riding on trams, hiding in hotel rooms, and so on. He has the widow, Baiba Liepa (Ingeborga Dapkunaite) trailing around after him. This is just as well since Wallander can’t read the local script let alone talk the local language. The scene where he goes into archives to find a file is beyond laughable. His only guide is a crumpled piece of paper with a name written in local script, he only has an entire archive to search, and he cannot read the catalogue. Even if he can somehow find the right place on the shelves to look, how will he know which of the several books and folders is the right one? Then we have him holding up his hand to stop someone shooting him. Like that’s going to work in Latvia which, according to this episode, is filled with corrupt cops, malevolent ex-KGB operatives, and criminal gangs specialising in drugs and torture. We have a deus ex machina ending with a sniper magically appearing at an elevated window to take a shot and, perhaps, even a suggestion he might bed the widow. That would be a good way of celebrating not being tortured or shot in the head by ex-KGB gang members.

I was alternating between anger and despair during the second half of this episode and finally settled on despair as I watched the good work of the first half ruined by nonsensical plot developments. At least the novel contrives to explore the complexities of the relationship between the native Latvians and the Russian ex-pats. It has something interesting to say on the politics and economics of the situation. But The Dogs of Riga (2012) as a television episode is just pot-boiling rubbish.

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: An Event in Autumn (2012)
Wallander: Faceless Killers (2010)
Wallander: The Fifth Woman (2010)
Wallander: Firewall (2009)
Wallander: The Man Who Smiled (2010)
Wallander: One Step Behind (2008)
Wallander: Sidetracked (2009)

Wallander: An Event in Autumn (2012)

November 4, 2012 Leave a comment

Wallander: An Event in Autumn (2012) takes us into new territory because, unlike the previous episodes, this is based on a short story, Händelse om hösten, not a novel by Henning Mankell although, as with the previous episodes, it’s brought to the small screen by Yellow Bird.

It’s a distinctly weird feeling to see Kurt Wallander (Kenneth Branagh) vaguely happy. He’s no longer popping pills, drinks only in moderation, actually dresses in sensible and clean clothes, and sleeps in a bed. It’s a radical departure from the manic depressive who drank himself into insensibility and slept in his clothes on the nearest surface to lie on. And it’s all the fault of Vanja Andersson (Saskia Reeves), his new woman, her young son, and the damn dog. Particularly, I blame the dog. Well, I was going to blame the dog but, obviously fearing the title, “Mutt of the Year”, the dog decides to do something to right the balance so, when Wallander is looking, it digs up a body in the garden of the farm house the newly-forming family has rented to be home. There’s nothing more likely to return him to an obsessed, manic state than the paranoid feeling someone has planted the body in his garden as a plot against him. Anyway, this black labrador is not done yet and gets on the phone to dogs around Sweden. They are to go above and beyond the call of duty to ensure Wallander is returned to the self-destructive state we have all come to know, if not love.

Kurt Wallander (Kenneth Branagh) and Ann-Britt Hoglund (Sarah Smart) before disaster strikes

That’s why, when Wallander and Ann-Britt Hoglund (Sarah Smart) climb over a fence to either confront a previous man who rented the farm house or do an illegal search, the two Alsatian guard dogs attack so viciously. Naturally, they want to tear Wallander to pieces — watching him week after week has undermined their “man’s best friend” approach to the world. They want blood. That’s why, in sequence, Ann-Britt shoots both dogs in self-defence and the dog’s owner wraps a sledgehammer round her ear in protest. There’s nothing more likely to get our hero depressed than guilt. Had he not been intent on bending the rules on the illegal entry, no-one would have been hurt. His faithful colleague who had just been promoted and was moving away to another town. Now she’s in a coma and being tortured by “The Incy Wincy Spider” on permanent loop. Apparently background noise soothes people lying unconscious in a coma induced by Wallander. So before you can say, Dognabbit, Wallander is back in his drink-a-bottle-of-wine, sleep in his clothes routine. He’s obsessionally on the case, forgetting to call home to explain why he’s suddenly decided to go to Poland.

Vanja (Saskia Reeves) at the beginning of the slow-motion crash

Ah, yes, Poland. Needless to say, it never rains but it pours in these murder mystery episodes. There’s also a suspicious death on a ferry that plies between Sweden and Poland. A girl is seen falling into the sea and bits of the body are washed up on the shore. Fortunately, with the dogged Wallander on the trail, it will soon become obvious this is a murder and, bloodhound-like, he’ll be hot in pursuit of the killer(s). Naturally, as in previous episodes, the guilty will either commit suicide or face arrest after a vicious fight. The total body count this time is four which is not very impressive, particularly because only one body is covered in blood. It’s a very tame episode with only references to prostitution rather than any other major social problems (anger at Polish immigration is only hinted at). Of course, when we get to the end, Wallander and Vanja are in counselling. As is one of the many ironies, this is the same counsellor who failed to save Wallander’s marriage. It seems, when you burrow down through the flesh and come to the bone, he’s never going to change. Love him or hate him, he’s destined to walk his own road. Whether Vanja will stay by his side is no longer certain. If she takes the dog with her, he’ll be alone again and no longer have an excuse for appearing to be a member of the human race. It’s rather like anticipating expulsion from the Garden of Eden because he insists on eating apples. Nyberg (Richard McCabe) has survived into this series but there are new police officers as Tom Hiddleston has gone on to Hollywood. Some actors are doing well out of this series. As to the verdict on Wallander: An Event in Autumn, it’s slightly better than average because we get to see a range of emotion from all the characters. Light and shade is better than the more monotonous texture of the earlier episodes. As to the plot itself, it relies too heavily on coincidence to be satisfying. Shame really. If the plot had been simpler, we would have had a better balance between character development and the crime to be solved. This is just a bit of a dog’s breakfast (sic).

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

Wallander: The Fifth Woman (2010)

October 27, 2012 Leave a comment

Wallander: The Fifth Woman (2010) is based on the sixth book by Henning Mankell published as Den Femte Kvinnan, which perhaps makes it appropriate that it’s the sixth adapted for this television series by Yellow Bird. What makes this a fascinating series is the way in which the adaptation messes with the original structure of the series. In the novel, Kurt Wallander (Kenneth Branagh) is actually not quite as unhappy as usual. He’s just back from a holiday in Rome. In this version, his normally sunny disposition is blighted when Povel Wallander (David Warner), his father, insists on leaving the nursing home where he’s attempted to retreat from the world. With the unerring foresight of those who’ve read the whole script, Povel knows he’s not long for this series and, if he’s going to go, he prefers to die in his studio. So despite the muted protests from Gertrude (Polly Hemingway), Wallander loads them both in his car and drives them back to their home. Needless to say, all this achieves is to dump the nursing problem back into Gertrude’s hands. Never let it be said Wallander is anything other than a thoughtful and caring man. As soon as he has his father sitting in his favourite seat looking out at the sea, he gets a phone call and is off to view a body. Not for him the quiet weeks away from work looking after his father. That’s what second wives are for. Anyway, as a parting gesture, Povel advises his son to find someone to stand beside him. He offers the assessment his son is a weak drip who will dry up under the merciless Swedish sun unless there’s someone around to keep him moisturised. Actually, Wallander later talks about getting a dog. Never let it be said this man ever drops his mask.

Kenneth Branagh and Tom Hiddleston looking “Thor”tful

Of course, the next time we see Povel, the old guy has died peacefully while sleeping his favourite chair in the studio. He, at least, has the sense not to overstay his welcome with one of these long-drawn-out death scenes. We then have to go through the embarrassment of Wallander failing to come to terms with his father’s death. Not surprisingly, Gertrude has absolutely no patience with him and, when they show up for the burial, both daughter and ex-wife give him short shrift. In the midst of all this, a vigilante is killing off old men who’ve been guilty of abusing their wives and mistresses. As is required in the structure of these shows, all the victims deserved to die so the moment the grieving Wallander shows up, the victims all say they are profoundly glad to be rid of these men. This is supposed to make Wallander feel better because, no matter how hard he tried, he never really liked his father and is also not a little relieved the old guy can no longer bug him about being a lousy human being.

Saskia Reeves practising her long-suffering look

To ensure we all think Wallander is an abusive squad leader, we get to see him shouting at the loyal trio of Magnus Martinsson (Tom Hiddleston), Anne-Britt Hoglund (Sarah Smart) and Nyberg (Richard McCabe). The scriptwriters in this series never miss a chance for a little thematic conscious parallelism. All this would be dire were it not for the appearance of Vanja Andersson (Saskia Reeves). She was one of the abused women but she somehow kindles a vague sense of kinship with Wallander and, over the course of the episode, they slowly edge towards each other until, in the final shot, she goes with him to see his father’s grave. We therefore have the usual trajectory into despair as Wallander sleeps in his clothes night after night and must, by the time he gets close to catching the vigilante, be broadcasting his approach to everyone downwind of him. But, despite his BO problems, he may have found a woman who can put up with him. Alternatively, she’s been taking abuse from one man on and off for several years so Wallander must seem a big improvement.

At the end, there’s the now ritualised melodrama as Wallander ends up soaked in blood and in something of an existential crisis. As the latest set of three episodes winds up, we should be grateful he may now have a shoulder on which to lay his weary head. Perhaps even a dog to stand by him with moisturising cream coating its jaws to bite him back to health. Wallander: The Fifth Woman is not the worst of the series but I remain unconvinced this vigilante could have managed the deaths as described. Like how did she dig the pit without the first victim seeing her from his window? I suppose the kidnapping was possible but how did she get the victim from the house to the woods? Similarly, how did she get the chloroformed victim to the side of the lake? This is another of these episodes which requires you not to ask awkward questions.

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

Wallander: The Man Who Smiled (2010)

October 20, 2012 Leave a comment

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.

Kenneth Branagh knock, knock, knocking on the door

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!

Rupert Graves taking great care not to smile

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.

Vincent Regan now recovered from his depression

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)

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)

Wallander: One Step Behind (2008)

October 6, 2012 2 comments

Wallander: One Step Behind (2008), produced by Yellow Bird, is the third episode I’ve seen. In the novel series by Henning Mankell, it’s called Steget efter and is the seventh. It now goes without saying that Wallander (Kenneth Branagh) is falling to pieces emotionally and physically. This seems to define the man. The television version gives the emotional reason as his wife, Mona, who now has a confirmed relationship with another. In the novel, Wallander is deeply upset because his father has died which, frankly, is a lot more convincing given the man’s devastated state. He never goes home, changes his clothes, or acts as a functional human being. Indeed, he carries the art of not talking to people to previously unexplored heights. He can sit with a potential witness for interminable periods of time and not ask a meaningful question. It’s as if he’s somehow walled himself off from the world and has literally lost the basic art of conversation. For example, when he’s on a trawler going out to an island with a potentially valuable witness, they nod at each other at either end of the journey and are shown not talking. For a man in a police procedural, this is quite extraordinary. It seems he’s converted to telepathy without telling anyone around him. He goes through this investigation as if he’s about to pass out at any minute. When he does collapse, appropriately enough in a hospital, he’s diagnosed as having developed Type II diabetes. His eating habits are catching up with him. This leads us to a general set of conclusions. He has been a crap dad to his daughter Linda (Jeany Spark). He was a crap husband to Mona. And he’s a crap human being because he fails to establish and fit into any kind of meaningful relationships with those around him. From this you will understand he wallows in self-pity. Driven by an increasingly obsessive desperation, he seems to embody a man determined to solve the crimes given to him even it it kills him.

Kenneth Branagh feeling on top of the world as Kurt Wallander

Anyway, in a prologue set on Midsummer’s Eve, we’re shown the murder of three teenagers. One of the mothers reports them missing, but three postcards turn up which appears to contradict her. The somewhat perfunctory investigation is being run by Svedberg (Tom Beard). He’s the quiet, retiring detective everyone works with but no-one knows. It’s as if he has no existence other than as a calm and efficient officer in the field. Naturally, Wallander has one of his nonconversations with the man and then, before we get too far into the story, someone shoots the officer in the head. This triggers a full investigation as a guilt-ridden Wallander tries to figure out who his colleague was and why anyone would want to kill him. It fairly quickly becomes apparent that Svedberg had been conducting an unusually thorough investigation for a missing person’s report. This suggests some information is missing from the files. When three more people are killed, I immediately knew who was responsible. I’ve read too many mysteries to miss this old idea. Of course it takes Wallander an age and even then, there’s a twist to throw him off the scent.

The ending is a travesty. I’m unable to understand how or why we must be subjected to idiocy of this level — although I concede the written version does have merit, this adaptation is horrendously clichéd. Through police work made far more difficult than it should have been because Wallander has been walking around like one of the living dead, they have identified the killer. I don’t think they sent the man a telegram, warning of their approach. As such plots require, they break in, guns being waved meaningfully as they’ve seen in American police shows on television. They then begin a search and Martinson (Tom Hiddleston) works through a veritable mountain of papers and, in no more than two shakes of a lamb’s tail, he’s holding a postcard that the killer has intercepted. It says Linda will be coming home that very day. Wallander lets out one of his grunts and sets off running like he wants a heart attack before he can go ten yards. Sweating like a pig, he staggers into his own home (fortunately not a great distance away as the man runs) and finds the psychopath waiting with a gun to Linda’s head. How did this psychopath know Wallander was coming? Has he tuned into the same broadband telepathy that Wallander has been using? I despair.

Tom Hiddleston recovering from dumpster diving

As to why the psychopath doesn’t kill Wallander when he has the chance. . . Well, to my mind, it’s just silly. Psychopaths kill people and, frankly, it would put us all out of our misery if he’d just pulled the trigger. That’s what psychopaths are supposed to do. There’s no rationality, no inhibitions and, in this case, every reason for him to want Wallander dead (if only to assert the sense that he rather than Wallander was the most important person around). As to why Wallander doesn’t just shoot the psychopath. . . Well, I think he was just past caring who lived or died by that point.

So although Wallander: One Step Behind (2008) is not quite as bad as last week’s episode, I’m rapidly losing interest in this excessively morose Swede. As television, it’s just one cliché after another framed in a story about a detective close to a complete breakdown. Although there are many fictional detectives given different forms of disability, this is the first time I can recall anyone so depressed all the time. I suppose Ian Rankin’s Rebus comes closest as an alcoholic depressive with Peter Robinson’s DCI Banks close behind. The more I see and read of these fictional detectives, the more I feel the need for something bright and cheerful. At least Sherlock Holmes could quietly retreat from the world when things were tough. Just a quick hit of cocaine and he was an bright as the energiser bunny for the rest of the episode. Our modern detectives all need to get out more and get a life.

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: The Man Who Smiled (2010)
Wallander: Sidetracked (2009)

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