Case Number 16661


BBC Video // 2008 // 270 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Daniel Kelly (Retired) // June 22nd, 2009

The Charge

Henning Mankell's legendary literary detective Kurt Wallander is brought to the screen by the BBC, starring the ever excellent Kenneth Branagh.

Opening Statement

The character of Kurt Wallander has captured readers' imaginations for nearly two decades and made creator and author of his stories Henning Mankell a Swedish national treasure. The BBC have now taken a trio of the detective's most worshipped mysteries and made each into an 88 minute feature, with Kenneth Branagh (Valkyrie) taking the role of the hard working and brooding cop. Ultimately these weigh up to be three very well made adaptations and versions of the novels that should enrapture Mankell aficionados and newbies alike.

Facts of the Case

Wallander's three feature-length mysteries are Sidetracked, Firewall, and One Step Behind. In all three cases the core ingredient is murder and intrigue but each separate case brings with it a few subtleties of its own and new demons to torture the ever conflicted Wallander's morals. Sidetracked deals with the serial killing of several wealthy art investors with shady pasts, Firewall with a computer system conspiracy, and the final entry One Step Behind with the surprising death of a very private colleague. In each story Wallander heads up the charge to deliver justice and solve a series of often gruesome and apparently unmotivated crimes.

The Evidence

The key reason for the success of these three efforts is the sublime performance courtesy of Kenneth Branagh, who brings a gravitas and realism to every part he takes. As Wallander he is thoroughly engaging and believable on both a personal and professional level, allowing genuine emotional insight into the conflicted perspectives that must inhabit the minds of those who uphold the law. In Mankell's writing, nothing adheres to the superficial and glossy nature that ensnares most modern day thrillers or contemporary heroes, Branagh and the creative teams understanding this beautifully. Wallander is a hardboiled detective and his world is harsh, no-nonsense reality; these adaptations have no trouble in keeping that tone throughout.

Mystery and noir fans shouldn't have to think about at least renting this set of intriguing and well-constructed head scratchers. In each, the twist is well hidden and the culprit completely elusive until at the earliest the last 15 minutes. My personal favorite was Firewall. It hits the perfect note between delicious mystery and character examination, really drawing out the central figure whilst allowing him to investigate a seemingly impossible crime. The final moments of this installment are maybe a little more predictable than the other two but what proceeds it is pure gold. It's dark, twisted and utterly compulsive viewing.

The other features are also highly entertaining and memorable, working to build up Kurt Wallander and always allowing for an emotional pay off at the end of each mystery. These are not just crime noirs in search of superb twists and unforeseen turns but also in uncovering and exploring the possibility of the everyman being thrown headfirst into these brutal and rock hard scenarios. The focus is always on Kurt Wallander as a person and whilst he appears inherently resourceful, thanks to Branagh's beautifully grounded work, you always feel that he's a very real and often disillusioned entity.
The supporting cast are solid especially Jeany Spark (Tess of the D'Urbervilles) as Wallander's bubbly and understanding daughter who spends her time trying to give her overburdened father something more than just work to live for. She along with Wallander's crack team of dedicated assistants are the only real reoccurring characters in the series, the rest left to individual mysteries and investigations. However even in those smaller roles actors acquit themselves well and keep the general quality of the production high.

This DVD set looks terrific and really exploits the wonderfully raw cinematography the series has on offer, a beautiful portrait of Sweden and full of some majestically simple yet effective shot making. It's astonishing that all this combined only cost £7.5 million. The DVD also comes laden with special features including a nearly one hour examination of the phenomenon that is Wallander and a very interesting and surprisingly probing interview session between the author and the latest man to portray him on screen. Branagh and Mankell clearly have an admiration for each other's work and a genuine understanding of where the other is coming from, probably a core reason as to why these adaptations are so good. Aside from those two chunky and highly informative features you also get two shorter but efficient featurettes that balance their time between an examination of the character and the making of this impressive TV series. Overall an extras stash worthy of the show.

Closing Statement

I was captivated by Wallander and offer high praise to all involved with its conception, especially Kenneth Branagh for providing such a convincing and hardened performance as the title character.

The Verdict

This is great stuff. Not guilty, and one only hopes the BBC turn out a few more of these high-quality adventures.

Review content copyright © 2009 Daniel Kelly; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 90
Audio: 85
Extras: 88
Acting: 93
Story: 89
Judgment: 90

Perp Profile
Studio: BBC Video
Video Formats:
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)

* English (SDH)

Running Time: 270 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Featurettes
* Interview

* IMDb