Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Wallander: the Revenge—the Detective Mellowed with Age

Ystad police inspector Kurt Wallander just turned sixty-two—and they were a hard 62.  Though still not exactly a people person, the detective is relatively at peace with himself now and even has close friends on the force to get hammered with.  Inconveniently, a series of spectacular crimes will soon interrupt their revelry in Wallander: The Revenge (series trailer here), the first episode of the second season of the Swedish television adaptation of Henning Mankell’s bestselling crime series, which opens theatrically in New York this Friday (with the entire second season already available on VOD).

Wallander is good at his job, but he is not a counter-terrorism expert.  Unfortunately, when the sub-station powering Ystad is destroying by a sophisticated set of explosives, it appears he has such a situation on his hands.  To make matters worse, the gallery owner hosting a controversial exhibit of Muhammad portraits is viciously murdered under the cover of the resulting darkness.  Is the assassination related to the terrorism attack?  The national authorities assume so, but investigating will be difficult until power is restored to the Malmö exurb.  The rash of exploding cars does not help either.

Given the big picture themes of terrorism and multicultural tension, Revenge, competently helmed by Charlotte Brändström, is reasonable cinematic for series television (clocking in at ninety minutes, much like most installments of Masterpiece Mystery).  In fact, it also premiered in Swedish cinemas before the second season subsequently bowed on TV.  However, as a whodunit, it is not particularly baffling.  Viewers are clearly primed for resolution absolving all suspicious terrorist types in favor of a more politically correct villain.  Indeed, Revenge largely delivers accordingly.  (However, the precise culpability for each crime is ultimately rather vaguely defined—a bit of a shortcoming for a straightforward procedural.)

Wallander will be familiar to many American mystery fans from Kenneth Branagh’s Emmy winning turn as the agonizing detective on the PBS-BBC English language series.  Actually one of three Swedish actors to play the part, Krister Henriksson is decidedly jowlier and less angst-ridden than Branagh.  Over time, that probably makes him a more welcome home viewing staple.  Nonetheless, he has some genre-fan pleasing moments of prickly intensity in Revenge.

American Swedish mystery enthusiasts will also enjoy seeing Lena Endre, recognizable as Michael Nyqvist’s co-editor and on-and-off lover in the Dragon Tattoo franchise, appearing here as Wallander’s potential romantic interest, state prosecutor Katarina Ahlsell.  In Revenge, they show the promising stirrings of some smart, mature chemistry.

It is fun to watch Henriksson’s Wallander go about his police business, when not walking his beloved dog or growling at his inter-agency colleagues.  However, Revenge’s is a wee bit polemical, at the expense of the story’s credibility.  Still, the character is an established international warhorse, so it is sort of reassuring to see him return in a more contented frame of mind.  For Wallander/Mankell diehards, it opens this Friday (6/1) in New York at the Cinema Village and is available with the rest of the second season of Wallander on VOD and DVD.