The character of Chief Inspector Kurt Wallander, created by the Swedish crime writer Henning Mankell, is someone you might discover late night when you fall asleep with the television on and wake up suddenly several hours later because of a startling sound effect during an episode of PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery! series. Or at least that’s what I did. This television version of Kurt Wallander, played by Kenneth Branagh for the BBC production of the mystery series, is charmingly civilian: He has weight issues, a strained relationship with his daughter, and above all, appears fallible. However, these qualities don’t diminish his cunning as an inspector, instead humanizing the sometimes unknowable persona that is the police detective.
Wallander: The Revenge, the new Swedish “film” version, is also actually made for the small screen: it’s the standalone premiere episode of the second season of the Swedish television series Wallander. Directed by Charlotte Brändström, this Wallander (Krister Henriksson) is much more measured and sedate but unfortunately not as accessible. The Revenge begins unassumingly enough with a celebration. It’s Wallander’s birthday and he’s just achieved a lifetime goal of owning a house by the sea. While the party guests are reveling, the scene is inter-cut with shots of an obscured figure placing explosives on the town’s power transformer. In addition to the party and the explosives, there is a small but vocal protest outside the municipal hall, fomented by a controversial art exhibit that we infer contains depictions of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. The transformers eventually explode, and the entire town of Ystad loses power. During the outage, the council chairman who organized the controversial exhibition is killed, and due to the timing, the victim, and the unfolding circumstances, popular opinion coalesces around the idea that this is an act of terrorism. Unfortunately, the xenophobic mania that follows metastasizes into a swelling of prejudice, hatred, and unrest.
Without power, the city of Ystad is immobilized. Modern conveniences are suspended, and most of the residents, including the police force, adapt begrudgingly to these limitations. But when two young police arrive to begin their training, it becomes clear that procedures at the station are already a little antiquated. Pontus (Sverrir Gudnason) is “good with computers” and continually interjects pieces of technological savvy that modernize the efforts of the investigation, introducing Wallander to tools such as the USB flash drive, email tracking, and keyword searches that are employed to discover and eventually confirm connections and suspects. Wallander’s attitudes towards women are equally as archaic. The second new officer, Isabelle (Nina Zanjani), is initially given menial domestic tasks like retrieving Wallander’s dog Jussi or assigned to performing tedious clerical work. Isabelle pointedly protests against these attitudes and, eventually, proves her merits to Wallander.
It’s been interesting to see how serialized detective heroes created or written before the advent of the digital era have adapted. The most recent television incarnation of Sherlock Holmes heavily employs technology and puts digital tools at the forefront of the narrative. With Wallander, technology, or the lack thereof, eventually becomes an asset, but is never eclipsed by traditional human ingenuity and, more importantly, luck. In contrast, with more contemporary characters such as Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander (TMT Reviews 1, 2, and 3), technology is an automatic and integral component from the start of their detective legacy. For Wallander, though, technology highlights the generational divides that plague him personally and professionally. Regardless of these features, Wallander and the team supporting him can carry a film with all the various twists, intrigues, and who-done-it qualities that make the genre so universally appealing in the first place. Though sometimes the solutions feel too neat, too easy, or often blatantly contrived, that’s sometimes how these episodes are best resolved and enjoyed.