Judge Erich Asperschlager fights bull.
"I fight the bull. You fight the murderer with a gun. It's what we do."
British author Robert Wilson became enamored with Seville, Spain the first time he arrived by bicycle in the 1980s. He returned years later and found in the city's narrow winding streets inspiration for a series of mystery novels starring detective Jefe Javier Falcón. His four-book series concluded in 2009, but the first two books were adapted for British television as feature-length movies—available on DVD in the States courtesy of Acorn Media.
The two-disc Falcón set begins with The Blind Man of Seville, which serves as an introduction to Javier Falcón, a divorced, drug-abusing detective who shoulders the legacy of his deceased father, one of the Spain's most celebrated artists. The story centers on a series of connected murders, beginning with a wealthy man who has his eyelids removed and is forced to watch a troubling film. As Falcón unravels the mystery, he discovers links to his own past, coming face-to-face with secrets and memories better left hidden.
The second episode, The Silent and the Damned, picks up three months later with Falcón's life in shambles. He returns to work in time to pick up a case involving the suicide of a man from a high-profile family and the gruesome murder of a supposed vagrant. The further Falcón digs, the closer he gets to a conspiracy reaching the highest levels of political power. As that power gathers to silence him, he must choose whether to defend the innocent or destroy his career.
British TV long ago cornered the market on compelling, character-driven detective series. While American television procedurals spin their wheels with black lights and acronyms, UK audiences are treated to one excellent crime drama after another. Thanks to PBS, Acorn, and streaming services, stateside viewers have the chance to see the best British programming. Falcón is certainly in the mix with top-tier mystery series, even if it doesn't reach the heights of the genre.
Falcón is driven by the troubled, brilliant title detective, played by Marton Csokas (The Bourne Supremacy). Robert Wilson approached the series as a psychological thriller, and both of the included episodes come down to the ways Falcón filters the cases through his fragile psyche. Coskas is asked to convey as much with body language as spoken dialogue, and proves worthy of the task. Strong and handsome, he creates a lived-in, complex character. The visual storytelling has an odd effect, however, as the audience is asked to infer a lot from asides, glances, and hazy flashbacks. It feels like a novel missing an internal monologue. Given its roots, that may well be the case.
The supporting cast is also strong, with turns from Hayley Atwell (Captain America), Emilia Fox (Silent Witness), Santiago Cabrera (Merlin), and Kerry Fox (Shallow Grave), but Csokas' biggest co-star is Seville itself. The city that inspired Wilson gives Falcón its distinctive look and feel. Shooting the series in Spain provides an authenticity that is at odds with the decision to have all the actors speak with British accents. There's nothing worse than a bad European accent, but the characters here are Spanish in name only. The actors' British accents carry a dramatic weight that fits the material, but it's distracting—as it would be if the characters in an American show set in Mexico all sounded like New Yorkers.
Despite the storytelling shortcuts and odd accent choices, Falcón delivers as a gritty crime drama. The series doesn't shy away from the seedy, with sex, drugs, violence, and strong language aplenty. Although it's not as bleak as the Red Riding Trilogy, or as subversive as Dexter, there are parallels to both. This isn't a series about justice served. It's about demons internal and external, and there are no happy endings.
Falcón's 1.85:1 DVD transfer is awash in the light and dark sides of Spain. The series has a lush filmic look that works in standard definition. The 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround mix is predictably front-heavy, with effective use of rear speakers to heighten the mood. The set comes with a few bonus features that tie the movies with the books and provide some more insight into Robert Wilson and his characters:
• "The Blind Man of Seville: Behind the Scenes" (16:52): Like the episode it profiles, this featurette serves as an introduction to the world, characters, and backstory that drive the series.
• "Javier Falcón Behind the Man" (5:38): The director, author, producer, and lead actor talk about what makes Falcón tick.
• "Falcón's Seville with Robert Wilson" (9:12): The author talks about the city and how it inspired his detective series, including the ways its narrow streets look like a brain from above.
• Photo Galleries: Both The Blind Man of Seville (1:24) and The Silent and the Damned (1:38) have auto-run slideshows, with images from the episode set to music from the series.
A note of appreciation: the main bonus feature screen on disc one includes a note warning viewers that the extras "may contain information that could spoil plot elements for those who haven't previously viewed the feature." People should know better by now than to watch the extras ahead of the feature, but it's nice of them to point it out.
The things about Falcón that work make it a success despite some gaps in the storytelling and culturally awkward accents. It's beautifully shot, gripping, and doesn't pull any punches. There are more fully rounded British detective series, but you won't find much better on this side of the pond.
No culpable, guv'nor!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
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