Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012

Gritty Swedish Mystery

Kenneth Branagh is Wallender

By David Luhrssen
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  The late Stieg Larsson is still Sweden’s crime writer with the widest global reputation, but he’s neither the only Swedish murder mystery author known beyond his homeland nor the only one whose work has been adapted for the screen. Henning Mankell’s novels have been turned into a British television series starring Kenneth Branagh. They have been running stateside on PBS’ “Masterpiece Mystery.” The third season is out on DVD as “Wallender III.”

Inspector Kurt Wallender (Branagh) is one unlucky cop. He moves into his country dream house in episode one and before the boxes are all unpacked, his dog digs up a human skeleton in the backyard. And then, a woman's body washes up on a nearby shore. “Do you think this is fate?” he asks, and then answers himself: “A policeman isn't supposed to believe in coincidences.” A belief in patterns and convergences is a grim faith on which to sustain a life, but it's the best Wallender can summon.

In the series III, Wallender remains as emotionally corked as ever, a dogged yet unwise detective whose pursuit of justice often raises as many problems as it solves. Wallender is a detective for a postmodern age when only fools seem certain and the center barely exists. He’s inward and weighed down by depression and doubt; the show's suspense never builds because the expected happens in an instant—whether a suspect's suicide or the attack of a vicious dog.

“Wallender III” is drenched in the twilight atmosphere of Sweden and the Baltic, a region under a cloudy shroud, girded by forests only the Brothers Grimm would gladly hike. The sun seldom begrudges the sky or lights Wallender's perpetual depression. It's another fine performance from Branagh, one of the great character actors of our time.

 

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