Sunday, March 24, 2013

Day Eighty-three - Wallander: Sidetracked, or "What is it with this trend of Swedish murder mysteries?"

Alright, truth be told, this is a BBC mystery starring Kenneth Branagh, so it's not exactly following the current trend of quality crime dramas coming DIRECTLY from Sweden, like The Millenium Trilogy or Annika Bengtzon: Crime Reporter, but it is based on Henning Mankell's Swedish detective novels which revolve around the cases of the eponymous Kurt Wallander.

While the series has been done in its native tongue over the years, Branagh's version is the first in English and starts right in the middle of the books with a sensational series of murders of high profile men of means, all killed with at hatchet... and scalped.

That's not the first death that we see in Sidetracked, though... no, the first death we're a party to is the apparent suicide of a fifteen year old girl who immolates herself in the middle of a rapeseed field as Wallander approaches, trying to help.

He (and we) see the entire desperate act.

Well, of course this shakes him, but as much as he dedicates himself to laying the young girl to rest, a directive questioned by his callous underling Magnus (played by up and comer Tom Hiddleston of Marvel 2.0 fame), he must press on and deal with a series of grisly murders of prominent and formerly prominent men of Ystad, where the series takes place.

Branagh, as always, is a powerful actor. There isn't a scene that goes by where I do not believe he's Kurt Wallander.

I want to say the same about Hiddleston's Magnus or Nicholas Hoult (Warm Bodies, X-men: First Class), who plays the son of an abusive fence in Sidetracked, but I sort of can't, as both are more of a distraction in their roles.

That's not to say that they're incompetent, as they're pretty decent actors, actually, it's just that their stars are currently rising and they've had several very visible roles lately that make their faces too... too... obvious.

David Warner, is also a distraction, but it's nice to see him again. It has been a while for me. In fact, the last role I recall him in was almost a decade ago with the Horatio Hornblower series in which he played a senile Captain. Here, he plays a going-senile painter, so I suppose there's symmetry.

To be honest, I don't quite feel the family drama between Wallander, his daughter, and father. It doesn't quite mesh with the mood of the episode, nor does it really contrast with his professional life. It's too prominent to serve as background info for the character and not impactful enough to have much of anything to do with the main story. It just sort of seems tacked on.

Still, it's a quality production filmed on location in Sweden. Thank you, BBC, for not just heading to Vancouver or Wales to try and replicate Ystad. I just wish it weren't so much an obvious thing what the villains of the story were up to. I think, from the moment I saw the daughter's overzealous reactions and the painting, I knew just what was going on. There really were no surprises to be had, but such is fiction, sometimes.

If you're a fan of crime dramas, particularly those that don't follow the American rubric of the high-tech procedural and, instead, prefer the sedate, thoughtful dramas from Europe, this series will be right up your alley. Not as much tension as Annika or Lisbeth/Mikael's stories... at least, not so far... but still high quality and pleasing.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

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