Thursday, December 18, 2008

Wallander - "Sidetracked"


Henning Mankell's bleak detective series starring Inspector Kurt Wallander is a huge hit over in Europe, and though I've seen the books lining the shelves at my local bookstore, I have never made myself familiar with them. The BBC recently commissioned a three part series starring Kenneth Branagh, adapting three of Mankell's books, and I have the distinct pleasure of viewing the first episode, "Sidetracked".

Wallander is investigating the apparent suicide by immolation of a fifteen year old girl. At the same time, a brutal string of murders by axe to the head is taking out seemingly unconnected people, including some related to the government and to the local art scene.

While Wallander tries to piece together the fragments, he deals with his tempestuous relationship with his daughter and his father, who has been recently diagnosed with Alzheimers.

This is a very bleak, very depressing detective show. There are small points of light of humour, but for the most part, this is more depressing than watching cans being crushed. Kenneth Branagh, a classically trained Shakespearean actor, appears fat, wasted, and tired while he slouches through every interview and conversation. But he makes it believable, I suppose.

I really liked this episode, as the mystery is complex, but not at the same difficulty level as, say, an Ellroy novel. Perhaps a lot has been cut out due to running time, which seems likely, but the mystery isn't terribly impossible to solve. I figured it out with ample time. There's really only a couple suspects.

For a television show, this is quite cinematic in presentation. Lots of interesting camera angles, and the cinematography is excellent. I think the best thing I can say about this show is the colour palette is well chosen and every scene has an interesting colour contrast. Many scenes highlight the washed out blueness of Sweden, but at the same time, contrast that with red tinges. It's very beautiful.

I was thoroughly engaged with the program for most of its running time. It starts off slow, but picks up once Branagh shakes off the dust and begins to move around and actually act. The best parts of the show, for me, was the relationship angle, showing how troubled Wallander really is. This is definitely not a CSI or a Law & Order show. There's no lurid description of the scientific process to determine who sneezed and had Cheerios for breakfast. This is a character study through and through.

Sure, the idea of the troubled detective isn't new, but this is a very well done execution of the archetype. I really enjoyed
Wallander and I look forward to seeing the next episode.

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