Here in the United States, many of our police detective heroes in the movies follow a predictable American archetype – the young flashy maverick who breaks all the rules, or the surly middle-aged guy with a hot temper and a sailor’s mouth. Very rarely do we see fictional police detectives that reflect what they usually are in reality: calm, quiet, experienced people that aren’t prone to panic and approach their targets with solid footing. Such is the character of Swedish Chief Inspector Kurt Wallander, a man in his 60s that calmly, methodically, and brilliantly closes in on the perpetrator of terrorist attacks and political murders in Wallander: The Revenge.
Wallander, for audiences who are unfamiliar, is based on the popular series of crime books and episodes written by Swedish author Henning Mankell. The story begins in the small town of Ystad, where a controversial museum exhibit concerning Mohammed is the subject of a heated protest in town. Meanwhile, a mysterious figure plants explosives on Ystad’s only power station. As the old curator of the travelling exhibition settles amongst tight security, the power station explodes, leaving the entire town in the dark. The killer strikes, mercilessly gunning down the old curator in the darkness. Wallander (a confident Krister Henriksson) is quickly called to the scene from his birthday party, and wastes no time getting to work.
What starts out as a murder case quickly escalates into probable terrorism as a series of bombings the next morning implicate a larger purpose at work. As a result of the chaos, Swedish government agents arrive on the scene and mount a competing slipshod investigation, one that quickly finds what they believe the most likely culprit, a Muslim activist. Two police trainees are assigned to shadow Wallander to solve the case, one of them a young woman, something the old-fashioned Wallander doesn’t quite know how to handle. To make matters worse, the Prime Minister of Sweden has decided to make this a political issue, and is scheduled to arrive in Ystad where chaos has led to panic.
This is where the performance of Henriksson as Wallander shines. While the people that surround him work themselves into a frenzy, Wallander is unflappable, always calculating. Through the deep wrinkles in his face and quiet demeanor, we can see the smooth turning gears of his seasoned mind. He is calm and collected, acting like the peaceful eye of the storm with only a slightly furrowed brow. As the murders pile up, he starts to make the connections.
One of the strengths of Wallander: The Revenge is that it is deeply critical of those who leap to conclusions based on mere assumption. The town, early on, is almost ready to lynch the entire Muslim population on mere suspicion alone, a scene that might be uncomfortably familiar here in the States. Yet Wallander himself has his own prejudices, and awkwardly assigns the female trainee to walk his dog for her first assignment, a job that is far beneath her. It is never certain why Wallander doesn’t seem to trust young women, and when called out, he mentions only that “it’s complicated.” But he is thoughtful, and willing to question even his own beliefs, enough to later send the young trainee to the front lines to work with the boys’ club of fellow investigators. It is this same willingness to question others’ beliefs and assumptions that make him see who the suspect might really be.
It is the quiet gravitas of this older chief inspector, and all of his flaws, that make Wallander so compelling. Later in the film, when thrust in the middle of a highly volatile standoff where everyone panics, Wallander calmly talks to the attacker as if they were best friends at a poker game. He seems to say “you don’t really want to play that card, do you?” in a way that is not threatening, but persuasive. His waves of sheer competence seem to ground the entire police force, and act as a center of gravity for people to sensibly “return to earth.” If you like a realistic crime mystery with people that seem so likeable and real you would actually like to have a drink with them, Wallander: The Revenge might be the perfect film for you.