Monday, May 11, 2009

"Wallander: Sidetracked" - Thoughts

With eager anticipation, I watched the first episode of "Wallander" last night. I found few faults with the film (the faults were in the technical side of the program).

Kenneth Branagh stars (and exec. produces) as Kurt Wallander, a detective in Sweden. I've read a few interviews ahead of time and Alan Cummings, in a nice intro, gives us Americans the Cliff Notes version of the Wallander character. He doesn't sleep much, he takes his cases way too personally, he's short and abrupt, and, of course, he has personal issues with his friends, family, and father. Typical detective stuff, really. No new ground broken but, then, is there any new ground to be broken?

Be that as it may, Branagh does a fine job at showing us what it's like to be this kind of man and detective. The camera work was interesting as probably half the time we see Branagh's face, it's either partially or fully in shadow. There was almost an old-school noir feel to the way director Phillip Martin played with light. This being Sweden, there's either lots of sun (as in this episode) or lots of darkness. Here, the darkness was inside the souls of the characters.

When we see Branagh move, the best verb I could use to describe his movements is trudge. Wallander trudges through scenes at the beginning, a weary man doing a dreary job. However, as the investigation progressed, Wallander's movements became crisp (for him) and active. That kind of detail is probably not coincidental.

Speaking of details, Wallander's physical appearance was stark considering the way we usually see the charming and handsome Branagh. His clothes were disheviled and his shirts were untucked. I suspect the character smelled of day old body odor, too. The one fantastic detail that I particularly appreciated was Wallander's wedding ring. I can't remember any character commenting whether or not Wallander was a widower or a divorcee. Nevertheless, there isn't a wife in this episode. Wallander's left hand, shown in close-up at least once, was puffy and the wedding ring he still wears cut into his left ring finger. I took from that scene that there is no wife and he's let himself go, gaining weight, not really caring about himself anymore. A nice touch.

The music was a nice addition, as well. Many times, we see Wallander driving or walking or thinking and, underneath the scene, the music was soft and plaintive, even a bit mournful. Don't think me weird when I say I got a subtle Vangelis-doing-"Blade Runner" vibe for some of the music.

The story itself was interesting, as an American, seeing how the murders involve scalping. Too often I forget that folks beyond America's borders enjoy learning about the Native Americans and their culture and history.

My faults with the show are technical. The PBS feed through the cable box had sound issues. I checked both my TVs and the sound problem--like some intern was playing with the volume knob, going up and down, up and down--was from the company, not our TVs. Annoying but I soon ignored it. The other problem was in the editing. I've had some issues with the editing of Foyle's War, too, where the cuts seem quite abrupt, leaving you to wonder "Okay, what did I just learn?"

The faults didn't lessen my enjoyment of the show and I'm looking forward to watching the other two episodes. As with "Little Dorrit," has some good bonus materials. If you're interested, head on over to PBS's Wallander page.

So, did you watch it? What did you think?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I found the sound problems in the Wallander series very difficult to overlook. Could not hear much of the dialogue. I have read all of books twice so I knew what was going on, but everyone is not a fan so it must have been difficult for those folks. I liked the production and the loyalty to the books - but the very loud background noise made it very hard to follow.