BINGE-R #18: Imposters + Streaming Scorsese
Streaming Service: Stan
Availability: All 10 episodes now streaming
Grifter season is here: streaming services are full of con artists, with the promising Sneaky Pete [review here] on Amazon and Stan’s glossy, vague Good Behaviour [review here] both embracing identity theft. Now there’s Imposters, a deceptive American crime comedy about a con woman who briefly marries for loot being pursued by her former spouses. It’s the lightest of the three shows, but perhaps also the most perceptive about romance and longing, and it has a wayward tone that should be illogical but nonetheless proves enticing.
The opening scenes gives us a mournful Ezra (Rob Heaps) plotting suicide in the wake of his beloved new Belgian wife Ava (Inbar Lavi) taking his money – complete with a surreptitious second mortgage – and taking off. He’s crushed but the tone is comic, and the show keeps pulling off such moves with surprising ease. “I wish you happiness,” Ava says in her goodbye video, complete with counselling advice and blackmail threats, but the goodhearted Ezra doesn’t find traction until a previous victim, car salesman bro Richard (Parker Young), arrives at his door seeking revenge.
Lavi is exemplary in multiple roles (and accents) as the formidable Ava, a.k.a. Maddie, especially once the story follows the scammer and her team (Brian Benben and Katherine LaNasa) to Seattle at the behest of their mysterious employer, The Doctor, to target a surly, unpredictable bank manager (Aaron Douglas). Maddie being attracted to a civilian (Stephen Bishop) adds complication, but the show probably could do without Uma Thurman’s Lenny, a leather-clad enforcer for The Doctor introduced in the third episode.
The narrative alternates between the drama of Maddie in the Pacific Northwest, where she’s now the wispy Saffron while on the job, and the comic mystery left in her wake as her incompatible former husbands search for her. Broke and trying to make ends meet, the pair try to pull short cons of their own (they study John Cusack in The Grifters for tips) while quibbling over everything from tactics to Coldplay; “Chris Martin has it all figured out,” Richard assures Ezra. The back and forth only gets better when they find a third victim, the fierce Jules (Marianne Rendon).
Each search is haunted by the memories of their former wife – even though Maddie was acting, she did complete them, and one of several uncomfortable thoughts that linger just beyond the deft snap of Imposters is that for all her duplicity Maddie may be the best relationship each will experience. It makes you wonder whether they want vengeance, or something else. That’s an intriguing position for a new series to be in.
>> Bonus Binge: If you’d like your con artists in movie-sized doses, Netflix has the gossamer smooth 2015 romantic thriller Focus with Will Smith and Margot Robbie, while Stan is streaming Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, the 1988 comedy about competing hucksters starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin.
Martin Scorsese’s new film, Silence, is in cinemas next Thursday. It’s a stringent study of unanswered faith set in 17th century Japan, and if you’re an admirer of Scorsese’s art then it is essential viewing. But if you’re not down with his work, it’s definitely not the movie to start with. What is? Here are three American classics from Scorsese that you can stream:
Mean Streets (Netflix, 1973, 112 minutes): Scorsese’s third feature, Mean Streets was his critical breakthrough, and it established an enduring theme in his work: the rift between spiritual devotion and amoral desire – the Catholic priest and the Mafioso – that here illuminates the soulful struggle of Charlie (Harvey Keitel), a disaffected Mafia foot soldier. Set in a long gone New York, the film connected Scorsese to his key leading man, Robert De Niro, who plays the impulsive, self-destructive Johnny Boy, a burden on Charlie who could also be a source of liberation. Scorsese’s technique came into its own with Mean Streets, combining rock & roll cues and prophetic camera work. He’d just turned 30.
Raging Bull (Stan, 1980, 129 minutes): The uncompromising peak of Scorsese’s collaboration with De Niro, Raging Bull is an unconventional biopic of Jake La Motta (De Niro), a 1940s American middleweight boxing champion who gives and takes punishment as if it’s his very sustenance. Masterfully shot in black and white but blood-soaked, it’s the study of a flawed man beset by a perpetual air of violence who eventually drives away his brother, Joey (Joe Pesci) and several wives, most notably Vickie (Cathy Moriarty). Disregard the extras at the title fight scenes, which are punishingly recreated, for this is an intimate work that finds meaning in confined spaces: a kitchen, a boxing ring, a prison cell.
Casino (Netflix, 1995, 178 minutes): A crime epic set in 1970s and 1980s Las Vegas, Casino is a masterclass of style – the camera is charged in its movements, the shared narration sets up barbed punchlines, and the corrupting force of money is depicted on a social and systematic level. De Niro is Sam “Ace” Rothstein, a driven gambler and Mafia associate given secret charge of a mob casino, with Pesci as Nicky Santoro, his friend and enforcer who eventually becomes his foe. The divide between the two makes public the internal struggle of Mean Streets, but this time there’s also a prominent role for Sharon Stone – never better – as Ginger McKenna, a Vegas hustler Ace marries. It’s a gorgeous, brutal picture.
>> Want BINGE-R sent to your inbox? Click here for the twice weekly e-mail.
>> Looking for a previous review? Check the BINGE-R Index.