Sunday, November 14, 2010

Film Yap: Wallander Series Two

Kurt Wallander is a name that is not as well known in the United States as other fictional detectives. He is the protagonist from the Henning Mankell novels. They have sold very well in Europe as well as here. Sweden made its own cinematic versions of the books and now BBC in cooperation with Masterpiece Mystery has created their own set with Kenneth Branagh.

The latest DVD set is Series Two, which includes the adaptations “Faceless Killers”, “The Man Who Smiled” and “The Fifth Woman.” Each tale is 90 minutes long and they are irregularly compelling. They are slow moving stories but there is something unique at the core of them.

What stands out with this series is not the cases, but how the cases impact Wallander. He’s a very good detective, but in a realistic setting. He’s not the exaggerated genius of Holmes or Poirot, but a devoted man to justice. He takes on such a burden with each case that it seems like he could psychological collapse at any moment. There is such sadness in the character and it’s conveyed perfectly by Branagh.

The most compelling part of this season (and the whole series) is the personal life of Wallander. The scenes with his daughter and father always stood out as something special, because it wasn’t just his reactionary status from the daunting and troubling cases. Once the themes go beyond the procedural aspect, it’s also fascinating. The questions it poses about society and existentialism are complex and thrilling in their own nature.

Sometimes the details of the mysteries fall by the wayside as it’s unclear how each clue lead to the next person. Some of this is the pacing and the stillness. It requires patience and dedication because nothing will be spoon-fed to you. Its presentation is interesting in that it ranges from amazing imagery and scene construction to more standard fare. What is absolutely working is Branagh’s masterful performance. As an incredibly accomplished actor, it’s riveting to see him give perhaps his best performance of his career.

Dissecting the three episodes, the greatest of the three would be “The Fifth Woman” because it’s the most personal of the stories for Wallander. No his daughter isn’t kidnapped by terrorists, but to say any more would ruin the impacting moments that were heart-breaking.

The DVD and Blu-Ray of Series Two has two featurettes. The first is called “Wallander Country” which looks at the production, specifically how it uses the Sweden landscape. This was a really cool examination on the expectations of locations and how to use it as a style. It’s a bit too overnarrated, but the anecdotes are worthwhile. The other one is called “Being Kurt Wallander” which is the cast musing on the character and the audience reaction to him. I wish this one had more of Branagh talking about Wallander and less film clips.

Faceless Killers: 3.5 Yaps

The Man Who Smiled: 4 Yaps

The Fifth Woman: 4.5 Yaps

Extras: 3.5 Yaps

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