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Wallander: Sidetracked / Firewall / One Step Behind

BBC Worldwide // Unrated // June 2, 2009
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted June 17, 2009 | E-mail the Author
The Series:



 


Based on a series of best selling books by Henning Mankell,
the BBC series Wallander seems
to have everything going for it.  It stars
Kenneth Branagh, has a flawed main
character (those are always more interesting,) and contains some
puzzling mysteries.  Unfortunately the show
doesn't live up to its
potential.  Slow paced and often relying
on outrageous coincidences to move the plot forward the three shows in
this set
range from mediocre to pretty bad.


 


Sidetracked:


 


This set contains three mysteries, each running an hour and
a half.  This first tale introduces Kurt
Wallander, a Swedish police detective, who is separated from his wife,
has a
rocky relationship with his only daughter, and has no life outside of
his
work.  He's called out to a farm one day
when a local sees a girl stealing a can of gasoline from a barn.style=""> 
He finds the girl sitting in a field and is
able to approach her until he reveals that he's a policeman.style="">  At that point she gets terrified, pours the
gas over her head, and lights herself.


 


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There seems to be no reason why she did this (well, to the
police... viewers who have seen a few mysteries will latch on to a clue
right
away about an hour before the characters do) and they have a hard time
identifying her body.


 


Meanwhile a prominent member of the government is killed
outside of his house, his head cracked open with a single blow from an
axe.  What's more mysterious is that a
patch of his hair and scalp have been cut off of his body. 
When a rich business man and another
important person are both killed in the same way, Wallander has to
figure out
how these seemingly unrelated killings are tied together and figure out
who is
on the killer's list before they strike again.


 


This story opens with an attention-getting death but then slows
to a crawl.  Wallander broods about the
girl who killed herself.  He tried to
interview someone and they won't talk. 
He broods about his wife.  He
complains that he has nothing to go on to his co-workers, he broods
some
more.  What makes it worse is that he
misses clues that are pretty obvious.  It
takes him a day or two to realize that it's unnatural for a man to have
an
erotic painting of his teenage daughter hanging in his house.style="">  That's because Wallander doesn't really solve
this case as let it unravel before his eyes. 
Yes, there were some steps he took at the end that helped catch
the
criminal, but he didn't drive the investigation like most detective do,
he just
would start off into space and glare.


 


Firewall:


 


This second case is better than the first.  It
moves faster and has more interesting
characters, but it's flawed by too many coincidences and some pretty
unbelievable events. 


 


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Two teenage girls hail a cab to ride to a pizza joint, but
one of them pulls a knife and kills the driver before they get there.style="">  They don't try to run, and when captured the
killer says that she did it for the money, something that Wallander
doesn't
believe. 


That evening an IT specialist drops dead after getting some
money from an ATM.  He was young, had a
strong heart, and no signs of poison.  No
one is sure why he died, so Wallander breaks into his apartment, not
wanting to
wait for a warrant, but doesn't find much of interest. 
When the warrant does arrive however it's
discovered that someone has broken in and removed some things:style="">  A picture and a day planner. 
Why would someone do that if it were a
natural death?


 


That evening the teenage murderer escapes from the police
station when someone working on the station's computer network
accidently
unlocks all of the cells.  What's even
more bizarre is when the body of the dead computer programmer
disappears from
the morgue.  Are these cases related, and
if so, how? 


 


This movie had me really guessing and on the edge of my seat
for most of it, until the end.  When
everything
was finally revealed, the outrageous coincidences and ludicrious plot
were
impossible to swallow.  What was going on
would make a Bond villain shake his head in disbelief. 


 


Spoilers:


 


Okay, I'll tell you what happens in this story.  If
you don't want to know, skip down to the
next one.  It turns out that the dead IT
guy and his partner were going to destroy the Western banking system so
that
the developed countries would be on the same level as the third world.style="">  To do this they planted a computer virus in
every bank's computer in Europe and North America
that once triggered with wipe out all of the bank's records.style="">  (Apparently in this world banks don't backup
their data on a daily basis and keep it secure.)  When
asked how they got in to all these well
guarded banks it was claimed "They had usernames and passwords" but how
they
got that was never explained (aside from the fact that they were great
hackers!)


 


So, these two computer geniuses can get past any bank
security, but they need help to bring the Western World to its knees.style="">  What do they do?  Hire
a couple of teenagers to help them!  Turns
out the girl at the beginning knew what
was going to happen in a few days, and when she got in the cab she
recognized
the driver. The driver's son had rapped the girl three years earlier,
but the
father provided him with an alibi so he wasn't charged and quickly
moved to
another country.  When she saw the man
again,
she pulled out a 8 inch knife she just happened to have and killed him.




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That same night, one of the main masterminds behind the plot goes to an
ATM and
has a brain aneurism and dies.   Imagine
the odds!  Okay, so the one remaining
computer genius hacks into the police system and releases the girl,
just so he
can kill her before she talks, but after he's cleaned out the dead
man's
apartment.  The crook didn't remove his
dead partner's computers however.  These
were kept in the building's basement, and apparently he didn't know
that little
fact.  Good thing to because when the
cops find them, they are able to get their own hacker to look in and
see what's
going on. 


 


I love this next part. 
Wallander is talking with someone in a restaurant when the
police hacker
figures out what's going on.  What does
the hacker do?  Call Wallander?style="">  No. 
Call one of his associates? 
No.  Try to stop the financial
meltdown of Western society that he predicts will happen in a matter of
hours?  No.  Instead
of doing any of these, he spends his
time driving around in his car until he miraculously finds Wallander.style="">  (Those hackers can do anything!) 
Why does he go to all that trouble?  Because
the plot can't progress
otherwise.  The detective just happens to
be having dinner with one of the crooks (!) and the villains have to
learn the
hackers name or else their plan will be foiled. 
So it's a good thing that guy introduces himself. 
(Or didn't just call as any sane person would
have done.)  There was still 20 minutes
left to go, so they had to do something idiotic to keep the movie
going.  The film digresses to a poor action
film from
there which makes it a bit laughable.


 


End Spoilers.



One Step Behind:


 


The final story in this set opens with one of Wallander's colleagues,
Svedberg, trying to confide in him.  Svedberg's
having problems and his personal life is starting to overlap with his
professional
life.  Wallander, showing himself to be a
first-class asshole, yawns when he hears this and leaves the man
without
getting details.  Two days later Svedberg
doesn't show up to work and doesn't answer his phone. 
Wallander goes to the man's apartment and
finds him dead, with a single bullet hole in his forehead. 
Svedberg's relatives all say that the dead
man claimed that Wallander was his best friend, which makes the
detective feel guiltier,
and more determined to find his killer. 
So, true to form, Wallander decides to brood, stare off into
space, and
then brood some more.


 


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This film was the least satisfying in a lot of ways. 
It had the Branagh, who does an admirable job
with the character, brooding like the first TV movie yet the mystery is
not as
interesting as the first.  More of a
straight whodunit it lacks the bizarre flavor the first two mysteries
had and
yet the resolution is just as idiotic and contrived as the conclusion
to Firewall. 


 


The main problem I had with all three of these films is that
the character of Wallander is just not that interesting. 
There are some great flawed detectives (I
loved Cracker and style="font-style: italic;">Last Detective) but Wallander isn't
one of them.  There is nothing in his
personality or actions
that make him a good officer.  He doesn't
see clues that others miss or have some special insight; he doesn't
even work
especially hard on a case.   More
often
than not the killer just pops up instead of being tracked down.style="">  There's just nothing that makes this
character stand out.  And when you have a
character driven series like this, that's really bad.


 


The DVD:
 






Audio:


 


This show comes with both a stereo soundtrack and
(surprisingly) a 5.1 audio mix.  I mainly
viewed the show with the multichannel option but there wasn't a lot of
difference
between it and the two channel track. 
The rears were only used occasionally and most of the time the
audio
action was centered fully on the screen. 
There were a few times that it was hard to make out what someone
said,
but this was more do to the heavy accents than any flaw in the disc
itself.  Overall these three films sound
fine.


 


Video:


 


The anamorphic 1.78:1 image was good but not exceptional. 
The Swedish countryside is beautiful and
brightly colored and the flesh tones look fine. 
The level of detail is fine but not outstanding. 
There were a few compression artifacts, a
little bit of aliasing here and there but nothing really distracting.


 


Extras:


 


The disc comes with some great featurettes, which will be
much appreciated if you enjoyed the show. 
Who is Kurt Wallander? is a
nearly hour long talk with mystery writer Henning Mankell who talks
about
Sweden and the changes he's seen in his country and how these feelings
appear
in the character of Kurt Wallander.  Next
up is The Wallander Look, a
12 minute featurette on the look and feel of the
show. 


 


The most interesting extra was a half hour discussion
between author Henning Mankell and actor Kenneth Branagh. 
This took place on one of the sets for an
installment of the series and they both discuss their take on the
character.  Finally there is Branagh's
Wallander
, a 15 minute
discussion with the star and his feelings about the books, the
character and
working on television. 


 


Final Thoughts:


 


I was really hoping to like this series.  Kenneth
Branagh is a great actor, and I usually
enjoy mysteries, especially those with flawed main characters.style="">  This one just doesn't make the grade
however.  It's hard to identify with
Wallander and the pace is glacially slow. 
Added to that is fact that the resolutions are absurd more often
than
not.  When all is said and done, none of
these three movies left me satisfied. 
Fans of the books may want to try this set out, but I'd make it
a rental. 
 
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