Kenneth Branagh plays dark and brooding Swedish detective Kurt Wallander in this series of three feature length episodes, the second of which was last night’s episode, Firewall. The dramas are based on the best-selling books by Henning Mankell who’s sold over 25 million copies of his books worldwide.
All three of the dramatic tales are set in Sweden and were shot on location there so the backdrop to the story is some stunning – albeit sometimes bleak – scenery.
Kenneth Branagh said of his role, “Wallander is a wonderfully complex and compelling character and, as a long time admirer of Mankell’s novels, I am very excited to be playing this fascinatingly flawed but deeply human detective.”
I found Branagh’s portrayal of Kurt Wallander – a middle-aged ‘everyman’ – to be rather depressing. I’m sure this was by design as Mankell’s novels are dark and make much of Wallander’s personal struggles which include his pending divorce, ill health and general loneliness. Throughout, Branagh looks like he needs a shave and a good night’s kip, as well as perhaps a couple of months on Prozac and a personal shopper who buys him clothes in colours other than brown or grey.
However, onto the plot and stopping to use a cash machine, a man inexplicably falls to the ground dead. Meanwhile, a taxi driver is brutally murdered by two teenage girls who, though quickly apprehended, show a total lack of remorse. One of the girls – Sonja – then escaped police custody and disappeared only to later turn up murdered herself.
Soon afterwards, half the country was plunged into darkness by a blackout and Wallander was sure that these events were linked but was hindered by the discovery of betrayals within his own team. So, lonely and angst ridden, Wallander was led into a web of deceit and anarchy which was engineered by a shadowy group of anarchic terrorists. They hid within the anonymity of cyberspace and used Wallander – as well as the police force’s own computer systems – to stay one step ahead of the investigation.
It all began to unravel when Wallender’s daughter enrolled him on an internet dating site and his very first reply was from a beautiful young woman called Ella, played by Orla Brady, but given that Sonja had escaped from police custody, the fact that this very beautiful lady had expressed an interest in him wasn’t enough to raise more than a wry smile.
By the time the plot had moved on and all these events – murders, power cuts – were, Wallander discovered, somehow linked in cyberspace, he enlisted the help of a teenaged hacker to unravel the mystery… and that’s where it lost me. It was all very convenient – this prodigy of a hacker unraveling and unlocking the secrets behind a super-encrypted bunch of equally super-computers and super-criminals just pushed the plot into the realms of the unreal for me. After all, if a geeky young kid could get into the system and find out all its secrets, it really can’t have been that good can it? Surely even Sweden has an IT forensics expert somewhere?
Another thing that struck me was that the entirety of the Swedish police force looked more like teachers than battle fatigued police officers. I don’t know what quality it was about the supporting cast that gave them that teacheresque look but I could definitely more easily see them marking books, dishing out detentions and having a crafty fag through chalk laden fingers than dealing with murders.
It also seemed a rather unlikely scenario when at one point, Wallander – moving stealthily lest his position was given away – was in a shoot out in some dark and scary woods but he hadn’t thought to turn his phone off. Cue new love interest and cyber terrorist Ella who rang him and Wallander’s awful ring tone alerted the shooter to exactly where he was. Said shooter then proceeded to shoot the phone dead and thank god he did; it really was an annoying ring tone.
However it was of course to transpire that Ella had been central to this entire plot and had been using Wallander to squeeze information out of him, but if she’d been able to get any, she was doing a better job than me. Branagh’s Wallander had a habit of talking in half sentences which I found annoying all the way through. The scenes in which he puts together the whole plot were constantly punctuated with ‘I thought…’ and ‘she er, um…’ and ‘I guess… I don’t know, I think…’. It drove me nuts. It felt contrived and simply didn’t flow.
Anyway, now that he was aware of Ella’s part in the anarchic group of terrorists, he went to her apartment having arranged a meeting. However, he found her in a pool of blood and dying but in her hand was a card; Wallander had found the ‘trigger’ and it was a cash machine.
He watched and waited for an unbelievably brief time until Ella’s murderer shot at him and then put a card in the ATM. He didn’t get a chance to trigger it by inputting the code and Wallander had time to give him a good kicking before the troops arrived and that was that.
There were a lot of questions left unanswered and overall, I felt that even though this was feature length, it should really have been given more time in order for the plot to unravel at its own pace rather than – as it clearly was – to fit into a time slot.
I have to say, I found the character of Wallender to be somewhat stereotypical and standard detective fayre; he’s disillusioned with police work yet dedicated to it to almost the exclusion of everything else, and I found Branagh’s portrayal of him unbelievable. I’ve always liked Branagh and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him as uncomfortable in a role as he was in this one.