Sometimes just the name is enough, and with a name like Max Anger, discerning thriller fans are left in no doubt about what’s in store. The protagonist of three novels to date by Swedish author (and, bizarrely enough, Executive Supervisor of the Eurovision Song Contest) Martin Österdahl, Anger is an unassuming but hyper-competent action hero who has now made the leap to the small screen in the new series, Max Anger: With One Eye Open.
Set in 1996, With One Eye Open sees Adam Lundgren (Chernobyl) as the eponymous Max, an analyst working at the Swedish think-tank Vektor, who specialise in consulting on Russian matters. This being the mid-90s, Russia is in the midst of a process of hyper-capitalisation, as the old power structures of the Soviet era pivot to new (and frequently dubious) opportunities. When Max’s colleague and girlfriend, Pashie (Evin Ahmad of The Rain and Snabba Cash) vanishes in Saint Petersburg, he sets off in search of her – and headlong into a vast conspiracy that threatens the political stability of the entire continent.
Which may sound like too much for a mere analyst to contend with, but Max is a man with a past and a particular set of skills. He’s former member of the Kustjägarna, the Swedish Navy’s Coastal Rangers – the equivalent of the US’s Navy SEALs. While softly spoken and intelligent, Max has considerable combat skills to call upon in a pinch, and you just know that the necessity will arrive more than once before the final credits roll.
Fans of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels will find plenty to enjoy here. Like Reacher, Anger is a former elite soldier who uses his military experience to mete out his own brand of justice – and like Reacher the process of translating him from page to screen has slimmed him down from his muscular literary self to the more svelte Adam Lundgren (the hulking Reacher was played by Tom Cruise for his big screen outings).
There’s a procedural joy to watching Anger at work, using his keen mind and tradecraft to wend his way deeper and deeper into the Russian underworld with its malevolent population of mafiya goons and former state powerbrokers, one (admittedly extremely capable) man against a vast and shadowy conspiracy.
The other touchstone is Martin Cruz Smith’s Arkady Renko novels that kicked off in 1981 with Gorky Park. Cruz’s books explore Soviet and post-Soviet Russia through the lens of crime fiction, and so too does With One Eye Open. The period setting is deliberate; author Martin Österdahl lived and worked in Russia in the ‘90s and knows the terrain well – a kind of ‘Wild East’ period when massive systemic and economic changes made for rich pickings for opportunistic capitalists – and opportunistic predators.
The dangerous and dynamic setting forces Anger to recruit a local guide in the form of cab driver Mira (Ieva Andrejevaite, Skylines), who acts as his chauffeur while he searches for Pashie, her hard-nosed pragmatism tempering his largely theoretical knowledge of Russia.
It all adds up to a propulsive yet labyrinthine political thriller with all the requisite twists, turns and sudden bursts of violence. We’ve been well-served by Nordic Noir in recent years, but Max Anger is a different kind of drama – call it a historical technothriller if you like, and enjoy this deep dive into modern Russia’s underbelly.
Max Anger: With One Eye Open is now streaming at SBS On Demand.