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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: 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)

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