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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)

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