Monday, June 11, 2012

Wallander: The Revenge

In the wake of the "Dragon Tattoo" movies comes the police procedural "Wallander: The Revenge" (a terrible title that makes it sound like an Australian horror sequel), which is actually a 90-minute installment of a popular Swedish television series about Kurt Wallander, the rumpled chief inspector of the quiet seaside city of Ystad.

As the movie opens, Wallander and some friends gather for dinner at his new shore home, where he eagerly anticipates spending the last third of his life waking up to the sound of lapping waves and the comfortable sinecure of police work in a town that doesn't see much violent crime. All that changes when a series of synchronized bombs explode at a nearby power plant, casting Ystad into darkness. Soon, a local councilman is found dead of seventeen point-blank gunshots; the killer eluded the cops assigned to protect him after threats from Islamists (he had approved a museum exhibition of cartoons arguably depicting Muhammad in a pejorative light). Is there, Wallander wonders, a tie between the two events? And the subsequent similarly brutal murders of a hospital nurse and the head of a job placement agency? The citizenry certainly assumes so.

It's an interesting premise for a genre entertainment, and "Wallander" is consummately watchable in the way of professionally made contemporary television. But it never breaks out of its TV shackles, never compels or transfixes us in a cinematic way. For one thing, Wallander himself is a bit of a bore. He talks in a monotone and doesn't seem to have much more insight into the case(s?) than any of the speculators in town. (He's also an unrepentant chauvinist; when two new trainees arrive for their first day, he assigns the man to a high-tech surveillance position and sends the woman to his house to bring him his dog.)

The most fertile aspects of the plot outline also go largely untilled. A lot more could be done with the Muhammad cartoon controversy. I'd have liked to hear the demonstrators on both sides shed light on their views. Instead, it seems the filmmakers were satisfied to throw the issue in and pay it lip service. I also have a problem with the camera's point of view on the three murders. In each case, we're put in the position of the killer, watching the imminent victim realize something is amiss and spend their last waking moments in helpless and mortal terror. Now, I'm not saying a thriller has to make you laugh (though some of the best, such as Ron Underwood's "Tremors," do), but you shouldn't have to feel bad about yourself to get your kicks at the movies

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