by Cara Winter
I’ve been a fan of Kenneth Branagh’s work since the early 1990’s. When my parents finally bought a VCR, the first movie I rented from our local mom-and-pop video store was HENRY V, directed by and starring Branagh. I rented it so many times, the store owner eventually just let me keep it.
Over the years, I’ve seen almost everything Branagh has done, both in front of and behind the camera. (By the way, if you haven’t seen him opposite Robin Wright in Michael Kalesniko’s HOW TO KILL YOUR NEIGHBOR’S DOG? Go, watch it. Right now. I’ll wait.) So imagine my excitement when I learned (via LB, from whom all good things spring) of the existence of the BBC’s WALLANDER, starring the man himself. (Yes, a happy dance ensued.)
On the surface, WALLANDER is a run-of-the-mill detective show: a crime is committed, Detective Kurt Wallander (Branagh) is called in, and he attempts to figure out who-done-it. But just scratch the surface, and there’s so much more. Wallander lives alone in a sparsely furnished apartment; he drinks (quietly, in front of the TV) until he passes out; he forgets (or ignores?) his dad’s birthday.
Even the presence of his 20-something daughter (clearly, his Favorite Person in the World) doesn’t snap him out of his malaise. We get the sense that there’s something looming over Kurt Wallander, something painful. Perhaps it’s his impending divorce. Perhaps it’s that a fifteen year old girl just set herself on fire, right in front of him. Or perhaps there’s something else; perhaps it’s just the world.
This show’s production values aren’t so much pricey-looking, as they are carefully chosen. Establishing shots are often miniature works of art (an empty field, a lone farm house, even a tin tray lain with rolling papers and hashish looks like a 17th Century Dutch still-life). Locations are picked with the same artful eye; peeling paint, dusty roads, and greying curtains tell tales.
Even Wallander’s car was a studied choice: it’s a suburban wagon, suitable for hauling kids, dogs, and a spouse to the countryside – except that the need for such a vehicle is clearly part of his past, not his present. We close in on Branagh’s face a lot a lot, too, which is excellent; one look has more depth and weight than a 3-page Sorkin monologue.
The light on Wallander, especially, is bluish and muted (somehow, even in broad daylight) as if he’s haunted by something. Such freakish attention to detail makes for a masterful, eerie, and nuanced show, where each episode leaves you slightly breathless.
Long ago, I tired of CSI and its ilk because I feel like every TV detectives’ nonchalance about violence borders on sociopathic. (And sorry, only Cumberbatch’s SHERLOCK can get away with that, thankyouverymuch – especially because everyone else around him calls him out on it.)
In sharp contrast to most Hollywood crime shows, WALLANDER is feeling, authentic, and human. When Kurt comes face to face with something heinous, he is very moved by it. Still, he’s compelled to see things through, put the puzzle pieces together (however unsettling). At the end of S1/ Ep1, Wallander is heartbreaking as he wonders aloud how to go on, with all that he’s seen. In that moment, we feel for him… and this makes us want him to go on. He’s our hero, because he’s us.
The first three seasons of WALLANDER are available on HULU Plus, with a fourth in the works for 2015. (Yay.)