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Review: 'Wallander' on PBS

May 9, 2009 |  3:00 am
WallenderIf you're considering a Scandinavian seaside vacation, it's probably best not to take it in Ystad, the Swedish town that provides the setting for “Wallander,” a trilogy of 90-minute TV movies beginning Sunday on PBS' "Masterpiece: Mystery!" The bodies really pile up around there, something of a statistical anomaly when you consider that the murder rate in Sweden is a little more than one homicide per 100,000 citizens per year and the fact that Ystad has a population of only about 17,000. It's Hellmouth on the Baltic.

Based on a series of novels by Henning Mankell that have been translated into many languages and sold many copies around the world, "Wallander" stars Kenneth Branagh as the eponymous police detective, and it's good to see him. (Two different Swedish actors have already played the character.)

Apart from his Shakespeare adaptations, and even including some of them, Branagh's career choices have not always been commensurate with his talent as an actor. But if he's no longer a golden boy, there's something about him as he creeps up on 50 that's even more appealing, and he makes a neat fit for the gone-to-seed, world-weary Wallander, who no longer knows why he does what he does but works even harder at it to avoid dealing with his inability to sort out his own life.

I recommend the series, though Sunday's opening film, "Sidetracked," does present a bit of a stumbling block. It is stylized to a fault, a riot of saturated color, reflections, distortions, and arty shallow focus that might work for the length of a music video or pharmaceuticals ad, but is distracting and distancing across the course of a feature film. (The cinematography is by Anthony Dod Mantle, who photographed " Slumdog Millionaire.")

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(Photo courtesy PBS)