Review: Wallander: The Revenge

'A cop movie for grown ups. Or at least sophisticated teenagers... It's just great filmmaking.'

William Bibbianiby William Bibbiani


First, a little background: Kurt Wallander is the hero of a successful series of Swedish crime novels, published starting in 1997. Wallander himself is a hardworking police detective with an alienated adult daughter, a drinking problem, and anger issues. Despite this, he always gets his man. From 1994 to 2007, the nine Wallander books were adapted to movies for Swedish audiences. Those movies haven't been released in America. In 2008, the BBC transposed the Wallander character to England (played by Kenneth Branagh), and told the same nine stories in English. Then there was a Swedish TV series, which told the old stories but some new ones as well. Wallander: The Revenge is the first 90-minute episode of second season of the Swedish TV series, being released in theaters this Friday.

Having now seen it, I can attest to the interest of the character, and, more importantly, the appealing nature of his cases. Charlotte Brandstrom's Wallander: The Revenge is a complex and adult crime drama about no-nonsense cops working hard to catch bad guys, but without any whiffs of contrivance or adolescent badassery. This is a naturally-shot, terse, and necessarily downbeat affair that manages to stay fascinating, and doesn't alienate the audience with indulgent angst. It's like a more tautly plotted Prime Suspect. Like Steven Soderbergh's Traffic, but mercifully lacking that film's stylistic stiff-arming. It's a cop movie for grown ups. Or at least sophisticated teenagers.

The story is labyrinthine, and contains so many facets that it's hard to list them all. Wallander (Krister Henriksson) is at a party with friends when the electricity all over his small Swedish hometown goes out. The blackouts coincide with a series of brutal shootings all over the city. The next morning, perhaps not coincidentally, there is a series of car-bombings. Many people believe this is a protest of some sort surrounding a local museum exhibit about Mohammed. When the military gets involved (and there's still no power in town, by the way), the plot becomes all the more complicated, as the killer(s) and/or terrorist(s) may have orchestrated that. Wallander must work with his team (including Frederick Gunarsson, Mats Bergmanand, and Lena Endre) to cut through the hysteria in order to investigate. He must also contend with a pair of trainee cops (efficient Sverrir Gudnason, and feisty Nina Zanjani) who are all too eager to prove themselves, which can be a detriment in a citywide crisis.

In stories like this, politics are typically a red herring (if Clue taught us anything), so we're constantly waiting for a mastermind to appear. When suspects begin to arise, they come from unlikely places. The film is, however, largely about terrorism, and terror tactics. The message is about as subtle as they come, but the film seems to be saying that our constant skittish lookout for terrorism tropes can make us more vulnerable to the fear that such tactics are keen on eliciting. It also indicates that a good cop, with an eye for the law and a willingness to work very hard, can cut through the political B.S. and catch proper criminals.

The triumph of Wallander: The Revenge is how well is weaves together the complicated multi-armed story into something so perfectly wound up. It doesn't even feel like a feat or a stunt. It's just great filmmaking. Much of the film's attitude can also be credited to Henricksson, who makes his overweight 62-year-old gloomy Gus seem like a calm and efficient crimefighter.

The Revenge does feel, at the end, like the ending of a TV show (kind of “be sure to tune in next week, folks”), and the tone throughout is, as I have said, decidedly downbeat; I understand it's Swedish, but certainly Swedes are capable of a little levity. Had the pace been slowed a touch, and the film lengthened by about 30 minutes, Wallander: The Revenge could have made for a legitimate film classic. Since, however, it was only one 90-minute episode of a popular TV series, it turns into a slightly incomplete film. But I'm sure it would have made for an awesome TV experience.