BINGE-R #77: Seven Seconds + Mute
SEVEN SECONDS S1
Streaming Service: Netflix
Availability: All 10 episodes now streaming
The system serves no-one but its own malignant needs in Seven Seconds, the new Netflix drama about a case of police corruption that eventually engulfs a New Jersey city like a storm cycle given force by grief and regret. The grim snapshot of America’s urban fraying, where alliances – racial, social, professional, or religious – create friction through conflict or shoulder disillusionment through corruption, is not a new concept, but creator Veena Sud (The American remake of The Killing) creates such empathy for these flawed characters that their transgressions often feel tragic instead of malicious. Like The Wire and more recently The Night Of, this series gets at the individual cost of institutionalised failings.
When rookie narcotics detective Pete Jablonski (Beau Knapp), distracted by a complication in his wife’s pregnancy, accidentally runs over a black teenager, Brenton Butler (Daykwon Gaines), his immediate reaction is to hand himself in. “There are no accidents anymore,” a colleague reprimands him, and his boss, the hard changing Mike DiAngelo (David Lyons), covers it up. It’s only later that you realise DiAngelo is acting as much to bind Pete to his team as to simply protect him; motives often come with a stated goal and the true, but obscured, truth in Seven Seconds.
As Brenton fights for his life, surrounding stress fractures become apparent. The boy’s parents, Latrice and Isaiah (an exceptional Regina King and Russell Hornsby respectively) clash over the course of their son’s life, while the failing, down at heel junior prosecutor, K.J. Harper (Clare-Hope Ashitey), assigned the case finds renewal in unearthing the truth and a witheringly antagonistic partnership with a local police detective, Joe Rinaldi (Michael Mosley): “How do you like it?” she asks, offering him a cup of coffee in her messy apartment. “In a clean cup,” he replies. The occasional humour is bleak, and so is the cruel equation that could be the program’s philosophy: whenever you gain something, you surrender something else.
There are few mysteries to the case, rather a calm interweaving of the differing sides. The racism of the system is a given, and there’s a withering moment when K.J. tries to help another young offender with a plea deal, but a judge casually tips him into the criminal system. But the best quality to this sturdy crime drama is how it reveals uncomfortably personal insights to the character, whether it’s Pete recoiling from the familial embrace of DiAngelo and his crew or the way that Latrice turns on the church that she’d previously taken pride in. Directors including the late, great Jonathan Demme show the daily rituals of various fraternities and heartbreaking protocols, like a body making its way from hospital to morgue. You’re reminded of a Rinaldi remark, that in New Jersey they can see the Statue of Liberty, but the monument has its back to them. Here, everyone is looking the other way.
Mute (Netflix, 2018, 126 minutes): Netflix’s recent run of high-profile science-fiction movies continues with Mute, a wayward, unfulfilling drama about a desperate man’s search for his missing girlfriend in the seamy underbelly of Berlin 25 years from now. This is the same era as writer/director Duncan Jones’ debut, 2009’s Moon, which is amusingly cross-referenced here and more importantly remains by far his best feature. Moon wrung existential wonder from its self-contained lunar setting, but the expanses of Berlin are rendered as a tepid nod to the original Blade Runner, right down to the flashing neon that shines through the snug apartment of Leo (Alexander Skarsgard). Amish-raised and without the ability to speak due to a childhood accident, the barman in a gangster’s nightclub searches for his beloved Naadirah (Seyneb Saleh), a waitress with noir-worthy secrets. The connection appears to be a pair of American doctors – played by Paul Rudd, revealing a violent prickliness, and Justin Theroux – doing illegal work, but the plotting is tepid and the futuristic setting illuminates little about the characters, making do instead with the observation that in the future people in nightclubs will have crazy haircuts. With his stooped shoulders, the silent Skarsgard plays a despairing outsider, but his quest never really takes shape and the conclusion is unfortunately elongated.
New on Netflix: Martin Scorsese’s scabrous comedy of American excess The Wolf of Wall Street (2013, 179 minutes), with Leonardo DiCaprio and a brilliantly unhinged Jonah Hill; A Field in England (2013, 90 minutes), a psychedelic derangement from English filmmaker Ben Wheatley (Free Fire) set during the English Civil War.
New on SBS On Demand: Whether as a mini-series or a vast but still abridged feature film, Olivier Assayas’ masterful study of 1970s terrorism, Carlos (2010, 326 minutes), hasn’t always been readily available. Now it is, in three feature length parts starring Edgar Ramirez, and it’s a gripping portrait of charisma and modern history, with ideology being bent to abusive needs.
New on Stan: Shot in black and white, Alexander Payne’s reflective road movie Nebraska (2013, 115 minutes) digs into the strange connections of the American family; the bracing American independent comedy White Reindeer (2013, 79 minutes), where a widowed suburbanite spends the Christmas season taking a walk on the wild side.
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