Binge-r #90: Killing Eve + The Lost City of Z
KILLING EVE S1
Streaming Service: ABC iview
Availability: All 8 episodes now streaming
Killing Eve is a delicious, deceptive pleasure that double-crosses the audience’s expectations. It takes male archetypes – an assassin and the spy tracking them – and gives them a female spin, not just through the casting but also with a reworking of a familiar genre. Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s series is a thriller, a romance, a black comedy, and always something more. The plot feels familiar, but the characters dash easy expectations in the story of a desk-bound MI5 agent, Eve Pilastri (Sandra Oh), whose research on a female contract killer becomes an assignment to find the murderous Villanelle (Jodie Comer).
The BBC America production, streaming here on ABC iview, is curious about elements the covert mystery usually takes for granted. Villanelle, who lives in Paris and has a Russian heritage, is almost giddy with excitement when she’s at work but the scenes don’t end after the often grim executions. Instead the camera sticks with her, capturing a level of detached contemplation that is sociopathic but strangely intimate. Both Villanelle and Eve are underestimated because they’re women, but their actions are not merely about proving themselves in a male environment, they reveal through quirks, slips and sudden acts what’s truly driving them.
Waller-Bridge starred in her last series, the black comedy Fleabag [full review here], but even behind the camera as creator her distinct sensibility is apparent. Minor exchanges have a curious charge and everyday duties are inextricably bound up in crucial events – the first few episodes, in particular, reveal an often hilarious workplace comedy that just happens to be set amidst the security services. “You’re intuitive and you make insane suggestions,” says Eve’s new superior, Carolyn Martens (Fiona Shaw), by way of explaining why she’s been tasked with finding Villanelle, and that could easily apply to the show’s own voice.
Eve’s fascination with Villanelle’s work is soon reciprocated, in cruelly intimate and bloody ways, and Comer’s performance as the latter is fascinating for the way playfulness and perverse decision-making are bound together. But the storytelling always makes sure to look at both women from different perspectives. One way to view the change in Eve, for example, is from the viewpoint of her maths teacher husband, Niko (Owen McDonnell). As much as Killing Eve is driven by curt humour or deadpan violence, what shines through is how many elements are carefully intertwined so that you barely notice the influence they’re having. Don’t miss it.
>> Old Show/New Season: Netflix has added the first six episodes of the fourth and final season of its delirious comedy Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – I wrote about season three a year ago [full review here]. Also back on Netflix is the third season of the time-bending science-fiction reboot 12 Monkeys, an underrated series for fans of the genre whose second season I previously reviewed [full review here].
The Lost City of Z (Netflix, 2016, 140 minutes): Obsession is both a comfort and a crucible in James Gray’s update of the historic epic, which brings intimate yearning and telling detail to the story of a British explorer searching the Amazon basin for a fabled indigenous city. The American writer/director (The Immigrant, We Own the Night) makes great use of his cast, taking the dashing profile of Charlie Hunnam and showing us how his character, military officer Percy Fawcett, can never quite find satisfaction. Starting in 1906, when he’s commissioned by the Royal Geographic Society, Fawcett’s expeditions are marked by risk, and the movie captures the physical sense of going beyond the limit as well as the camaraderie embodied by Percy’s fellow explorer, Henry Costin (a terrific Robert Pattinson). The modern viewpoint examines both the colonial mindset Percy deals with and the role of Percy’s independent wife, Nina (Sienna Miller), while it’s the filmmaking that ties it together. Gray’s jungle is green and otherworldly, beautiful and endless. You understand how it could consume someone.
Also New on Netflix: Tine Fey takes the workplace comedy to Afghanistan as a novice war correspondent in Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (2016, 112 minutes) alongside Margot Robbie and Martin Freeman; a horror film about dual identity and female emancipation, Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan (2015, 123 minutes) is overheated, pure pulp starring Natalie Portman as a ballerina breaking apart.
New on SBS On Demand: Werner Herzog’s Queen of the Desert (2015, 123 minutes) is a surprisingly conventional biopic that could have done without James Franco, but it does put Nicole Kidman front and centre as pioneering British explorer and spy Gertrude Bell.
New on Stan: Somehow it’s 25 years since it was released, but Jane Campion’s The Piano (1993, 121 minutes) remains a consuming experience of desire amid the fierce landscape of Victorian-era New Zealand; Gifted (2017, 94 minutes) is a minor family drama that allows Chris Evans to take a break from Captain America’s uniform.
>> Want BINGE-R sent to your inbox? Click here for the weekly e-mail.