Film Review: Wallander: The Revenge

The kickoff for season two of a series of feature-length Swedish television adaptations of stories by popular Nordic crime writer Henning Mankel, Wallander: The Revenge is an efficient, unfussy examination of crimes and punishments best appreciated by
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Veteran police inspector Kurt Wallander (Krister Henriksson) has finally realized his lifelong ambition of owning a house by the water in picturesque Ystad, a small city in southern Sweden where medieval architecture rubs shoulders with modern problems. Though Wallender doesn't seem to have retirement on his mind, it's hard not to see the new house as a step towards a future of romping on the beach with his dog rather than picking through the ruins of shattered lives.

But peace and quiet are immediately put on hold when a series of synchronized explosions cripple the electrical substation that supplies Ystad's power, plunging the city into darkness and providing cover for a killer. His victim: museum director Eric Wester (Lars Varinger), who's just mounted a controversial exhibition of images related to the prophet Mohammed that's attracted protesters from both ends of the political spectrum.

No one appears to have seen anything, either in the vicinity of the power station—with the exception, if you want to call it that, of a young mother who noticed a man in the area but can't describe him in even the most general terms—or near Wester's home. Wester's murder hits Wallender's department particularly hard because one of his men, Officer Svartman (Fredrik Gunnarsson), was assigned to protect Wester and declared his house free of intruders mere hours before he was shot to death.

The combination of the blackout and the murder smacks of terrorism, and before Wallander knows it he's got Sweden's equivalent of Homeland Security crawling all over his town, looking for Islamic activists, anti-Muslim extremists, small-town isolationists and, for all anyone knows, malevolent flying monkeys hiding biological weapons under their little hats. But is Ystad truly caught up in the whirlwind of international political unrest, or does the solution to the crimes—both the sabotage and the first murder, and those that follow—lie somewhere closer to home?

Make no mistake: Wallander: The Revenge looks like the made-for-TV production it is. But that's barely a criticism, since its weaknesses—which are hardly crippling—are weaknesses of visual panache rather than writing or performance, and the Wallander novels and short stories aren't about spectacular gun battles and car chases. They're about the slow-but-steady grind of police work and the lives of men and women who care less about getting 30 seconds of face time on the local news than finding the cause of some ugly spasm of violence before it spreads, takes root and undermines an entire way of life.