BINGE-R #64: Ozark + Weekend Movies
Streaming Service: Netflix
Availability: All 10 episodes now streaming
Be prepared for the strong Breaking Bad vibe that Ozark gives off. In Netflix’s new drama a seemingly respectable member of society – Jason Bateman’s Marty Byrde – gets down in the muck of cartel cash, illegal laundering, and criminal conspiracies, providing anti-hero thrills and a tainted soul. But while it has virtually no hope of matching Vince Gilligan’s now revered series, Ozark does transcend the comparison to establish its own take on how malfeasance with the best of intentions can settle into a home with corrosive intent. A ratio of one unexpectedly breath-taking incident or line per episode also helps.
Marty’s Chicago home life, as husband to Wendy (Laura Linney) and father to Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz) and Jonah (Skylar Gaertner), and financial planning firm come unstuck when the Mexican drug cartel that is secretly the latter’s biggest client executes Marty’s business partner for skimming the take. Quick on his feet, even with a gun to his head, Marty pledges to earn back the stolen million and more by reinventing the laundering operation in the rural Ozarks of Missouri. Given mere months to turn vast sums of drug dollars into clean cash, he has to uproot his family and forego everything he’s previously earnt.
“This country was built by Americans pursuing opportunities,” Marty tells his sceptical children,” but what Ozark gets at is the illusion of middle-class security – the Byrde’s have to scramble, and in doing so they prove to be both tougher and more vulnerable than initially suggested. From the first episode, where Wendy has to choose sides, the writing digs into the marriage, with a stinging argument between the two in the second setting the stakes. When Wendy tells the children what Marty has done, Charlotte points out that her mother, in the name of honesty, is really trying to poison the siblings against their father.
Jason Bateman directs the first two episodes, stressing cold grey and blue tones, while his performance tamps down but nonetheless retains the sardonic commentary that is his comic trademark in the movies. The writing mostly resists vindicating Marty, instead stressing his obsessiveness, twisted priorities and occasional lapses in reality; matching him with the exceptional Linney helps greatly. The redneck backblocks start to come alive too, revealing locals keen to con Marty and his family, and there’s a terrific turn by Julia Garner (Kimmy from The Americans) as Ruth Langmore, the teenage matriarch of a crime clan. Ruth keeps revealing surprising new angles, much like this bleakly promising show.
>> Bonus Binge: If you haven’t seen Breaking Bad, then get straight to Stan which has every episode of the morality-testing drama about a science teacher turned methamphetamine manufacturer, while those who like crime-tinged family dramas should consider the three seasons of Netflix’s Bloodline, where domestic discord spirals ever downwards.
If you want a gentle buddy comedy…
Robot & Frank (Netflix, 2012, 89 minutes): This sweet amusement is an antidote to any fears you may have about the rise of AI and the ensuing robot apocalypse, suggesting that in the future automatons will make for great sidekicks. Living alone under increasingly tenuous circumstances, Frank (the nimble Frank Langella) receives a helper from his concerned but removed absent children (played by Liv Tyler and James Marsden) in the form of a VGC-60L, a stocky white robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) that’s here to help. Frank, a former burglar and convict, sees unexpected larcenous potential in his new comrade, which ties in neatly with his friendship with a librarian, Jennifer (Susan Sarandon), whose job has its own issues with technology. Jake Schreier’s film is a tender genre piece about human frailty that has a ready, relaxing charm.
If you’re after a thrilling action-romance…
The Last of the Mohicans (Stan, 1992, 112 minutes): Michael Mann (Heat, Collateral) found vivid momentum in this period epic, which intertwines the choices of individuals with the uncaring workings of the systems that seek to make use of them. Set during the 18th century war in North American between the French and British, it stars Daniel Day-Lewis as Hawkeye, the orphaned son of immigrants who traps and trades alongside his adopted Mohican father and brother. They ignore the British demands for service, but are entangled when they rescue a British commander’s daughters, and an attraction blossoms between the oldest, Cora (Madeleine Stowe), and Hawkeye; physicality burns through these immaculate widescreen compositions. Mann’s drive for authenticity is matched to instinctive romance, and from skirmish to siege the battles here are as gripping as the finery-shredding desire.
If you prefer an incisive documentary…
The Queen of Versailles (SBS on Demand, 2012, 97 minutes): A scaldingly sweet insight into American excess, Lauren Greenfield’s documentary begins with the construction of the largest private residence in America: an 8,400 square metre mansion with 30 bedrooms and 17 bathrooms (and a roller rink) owned by time-share holiday apartment mogul David Siegel and his wife Jacquie. Then comes the Global Financial Crisis, and as David’s empire flirts with insolvency construction is abandoned and billionaire austerity – i.e. no servants – takes hold. The ageing David broods, shocked by the loss of his entitlement, while the younger Jacquie comes into her own, revealing a genuine personality despite her wealthy tastes. The family’s outlook is astutely annexed by Greenfield, who catches both the folly and the flaws. If you want to know what a housing bubble looks like, take note of the family chauffeur, who has 19 mortgaged investment properties before it comes crashing down.
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