After cannily snapping up the rights to the Swedish Dragon Tattoo films, Music Box Films goes back to the Scandinavian well with The Revenge, starring Krister Henriksson as Henning Mankell’s implacable police detective, Kurt Wallander. Originally produced for Swedish television, the solid but unspectacular policier is the latest in a long string of filmed Wallander adventures, including nine theatrical features with Rolf Lassgård in the title role. Even after all of Mankell’s novels were committed to the screen, the Swedish public’s hunger continued unabated, so 13 new stories were created for TV, with Henriksson taking over the role, and 13 more after that. (There’s also a BBC version with Kenneth Branagh.) The Revenge is the first of that second baker’s dozen, all of which is to say that American audiences are coming late to a party already in progress.
Approaching The Revenge with no knowledge of Wallander’s backstory isn’t much of a hindrance, at least as far as following the movie’s plot. As Wallander and colleagues kick back at his lakeside cottage, a shadowy figure plants a series of bombs on a power station’s towering pylons. The explosions black out the generally peaceful town of Ystad, lately troubled by controversy over an art exhibition featuring photos of the prophet Mohammad. But the plunge into darkness is merely a cover for the murder of the man who staged the exhibition, shot 17 times by a perpetrator who leaves no trace.
Wallander is an old soul, his graying sensibilities thrown into relief by the arrival by a pair of new recruits: one who knows his way around a computer, and the other is (gasp!) a woman. But Wallander is unsentimental about change, and cool-headed enough to hold off on concluding that the murder was the work of Islamic terrorists. Sure enough, when more perforated corpses start to turn up, the clues point elsewhere, toward a suspect who’s decidedly less sanguine about the changing of the guard.
Given that Henriksson is in his 20th hour of playing Wallander onscreen, it’s no surprise that his performance has a well-worn ease; like the character himself, he seems to have been doing this his whole life. The lived-in quality is contagious, to the extent that watching The Revenge feels like catching up with an old friend. But it also leaves the film feeling incomplete, like a glancing piece of a much larger whole—say, for instance, the seven-disc Wallander boxed set Music Box is also releasing this week. The Revenge is a diverting enough 90 minutes, but as a theatrical release, it’s good TV.