Kenneth Branagh Brings ‘Wallander III’ to Life
'Masterpiece Theater' puts the Nordic inspector back on the case with new three-episode series

New York Daily News, 6 September 2012

Gloom is rarely as entertaining as Kenneth Branagh makes it seem in this long-awaited new three-pack of “Wallander” films.

Branagh plays Inspector Kurt Wallander, created in a series of novels by Henning Mankell and adapted for TV by a consortium that includes the BBC and “Masterpiece Theater.” They’re produced three at a time, and these latest three will air the next three Sunday nights.

Wallander lives in Gstaad, Sweden, in a house that would be perfectly nice if the skies weren’t always overcast and people didn’t keep getting killed in perplexing ways all around him. He also has a Labrador Retriever, the sweetest dog alive, and a girlfriend whose reservoir of understanding runs as deep as the fjords in neighboring Norway.

Still, about the best it ever gets for Wallander is “melancholy.” He has a daughter who finds him exasperating and a growing backlog of decisions and professional encounters that cause him to constantly question all the decisions an inspector must make. Nor, it should be added, does he lack reason for some of this doubt. An impulsive move in Sunday night’s episode, “An Event In Autumn,” leads to serious consequences for someone close.

Needless to say, his demeanor also makes his love life problematic. The new prominence of girlfriend Vanja (Saskia Reeves) often adds to his angst while increasing our dramatic pleasure.

Now sure, a series about a gloomy detective could easily become tedious. Happily, “Wallander” has the perfect antidote to that in its lead actor. When Branagh sits in the chair brooding, he doesn’t make us uncomfortable or annoyed. Rather, he builds our curiosity about exactly what he will do next, whether it’s deciphering a clue or just continuing to sit.

In many ways, Branagh’s Wallander slides seamlessly into a long line of screen detectives who think more loudly than they talk. He rarely uses two words when one will suffice, but once we see the signs that the wheels are spinning, we get all we need just by watching them.

It’s called acting, and in Branagh’s case, how Swede it is.

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