|Luca Zingaretti as Commissario Montalbano|
Putting aside their quality as mysteries for the moment, the thing about this series that really stands out is the craftsmanship with which they've been made. All ten episodes I've seen so far look great. The cinematography is absolutely first-rate. Two cinematographers have worked on the series and they both make great use of single-source, natural lighting for their interior shots. And an equal amount of care has been put into set design with the careful choice of colours to complement the cinematography. The locations? Let's just say you'll be booking a vacation to Sicily after seeing only a few episodes. The soundtrack also deserves praise both for its quirkiness and its unobtrusiveness. Some TV shows, notably Dr. Who, give the audience an unrelenting earbashing with bombastic scores. In sum, Montalbano looks and sounds fantastic.
As mysteries, this series relies more on characterization and pitch-perfect casting to carry the weight rather than clever, devious plotting. The stories are always interesting, often intriguing, but more for the characters they introduce than the plots. One episode, for example, "borrows" the plot from Agatha Christie's The ABC Murders. That plot is one of the most original in crime fiction, but by now it's been lifted by just about every crime writer going, and most viewers are quite familiar with it.
The actors, led by Luca Zingaretti as Montalbano, are uniformly excellent. I get the feeling that the producers have tried to use local non-professional talent, because some of the smaller roles are filled by people who have, shall we say, non-professional faces but a great deal of enthusiasm. This is all for the best because the glossy look of the shows is balanced out by cast members who look like they've been pulled off the streets and fields of Sicily. But Zingaretti is very much the star of the show. He looks and acts tough without coming across as vicious, and he's equally adept at looking foolish or awkward when the story calls for it. He's in virtually every second of every show, and it's a testament to his acting ability and appeal that he never wears out his welcome.
If you try and order the DVDs from Amazon keep in mind that for some reason they're listed as Detective Montalbano, not Inspector or Commissario. If your taste in TV cops runs to something grittier and French, check out my review of Braquo, a nasty but entertaining mini-series about some ruthless Paris cops. The trailer below is for the most recent episodes of Montalbano.
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