Charlotte Brändström’s Wallander: The Revenge may have received a theatrical release in its native Sweden in 2009, but as the first of a 13-film series (following an earlier 13-work set done in 2005-2006) that was broadcast for TV, it’s hardly a shock to find that this mystery has the look and feel of a made-for-the-small-screen effort. Primarily utilizing static full-frame close-ups, Brändström’s direction does little to alter the fact that her story—an original tale starring Henning Mankell’s iconic police sleuth Kurt Wallander (Krister Henriksson)—is limited in terms of thematic or dramatic scope, with its ho-hum aesthetics and pedestrian case furthering the impression of watching a so-so installment in an ongoing program. That’s not for lack of trying, however, as screenwriter Hans Rosenfeldt’s plot wraps itself in the timely topics of Islamic terrorism, government fear-mongering, and the need for a fully operational military via Wallander’s investigation into the small-town Ystad murder of a man associated with a controversial art exhibit about Mohammad. Alas, from the get-go, there’s no specificity to such concerns, as a wholesale refusal to explain what’s actually blasphemous about this show leads to a vagueness that feels cowardly, as well as fosters a sense of issues being trotted out only for superficial hot-button import.
With bombed electrical plants causing widespread power outages and further executions perpetrated against victims with no apparent connection to each other, Wallander chases after the killer yet exhibits little deductive ingenuity; rather, clues fall into his lap until, finally, one witness simply gives him the answer to how the various crimes are connected. Before that, the detective subtly flirts with a new colleague (Lena Endre), dotes on his dog, and reveals a sexist streak to a new female trainee (Nina Zanjani) that, like his admission that burkas are “strange” and “weird,” never materializes into anything more than peripheral traits meant to flesh out the 62-year-old Wallander as an acute mind with quaintly old-fashioned notions about equal rights.