Driving is one activity that forces us to look in the mirror.

Kenneth Branagh’s shambling version of Hanning Menkel’s Swedish cop is what drove all three smart and handsomely produced BBC productions of Menkel’s crime novels.

Melancholy suffuses all of the films, but it seems especially prevalent here, with Wallander seemingly too old, too distracted, too dulled to catch a murderer in his Swedish oceanside community.

I like to see this Branagh as the flip side of the character he played in his film adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing (1993).* He was young, handsome, and filled with brio, content to trade barbed witticisms with Emma Thompson in sun-dappled Tuscany as the day is long.

Now the day seems very close to night, Thompson is a distant memory (they were married for more than a decade) and Branagh is slogging through BBC made-for-TV movies.

Of course, I’m projecting. The real Branagh is re-married and is directing the Marvel big-budget Thor, so he appears to be fine. Kurt Wallander, however, is another story, one that Branagh effectively portrays. It’s an affecting performance; he’s a caring, troubled man, weighed down by a heavy heart.

The film has much to suggest about the way we alienate ourselves from our lives through the lure of work.  It surrenders to some serious genre cliches late in the game, however. (It also rather apes the plot of 1986’s Manhunter, the first Hannibal Lector film.)

Branagh has appeared in the thrillers before. He’s well remembered for his turn, with Thompson, in the Hitchockian Dead Again. But fewer viewers might remember Robert Altman’s compelling (if a bit by-the-numbers) The Gingerbread Man from 1998, which seems to be rather reviled on imdb.

* Why was Keanu Reeves in that movie again?

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