Binge-r #98: Marcella + Condor
Streaming Service: Netflix
Availability: All eight episodes now streaming
Don’t tell anyone, but I haven’t seen everything available to stream. That’s why, in a quiet month for new Netflix series, I’m going back two years to cover the first season of this menacing but nonetheless also mercurial British crime thriller. Marcella is the story of a woman who has the cornerstone of her life pulled out from under her, but instead of collapsing into defeat she elects to dive into a new phase, creating fraught, unplanned circumstances. With its views of London from busy streetscapes to wealthy eyries, the show creates a physical sense of a city divided, and that’s what you soon also come to sense about the unreliable protagonist.
As played by the underrated Anna Friel, Marcella Backland is trying to make sense of a dinner with her husband of 15 years, corporate counsel Jason Backland (Nicholas Pinnock), where he utterly failed to find the right moment to end their marriage. “I’ve felt alone,” he later adds, but with their two children at boarding school it is Marcella who is blindsided. She has already trashed Jason’s car when the visit of a police detective brings back the career she’s been on sabbatical from. The gruesome modus operandi of a triple murderer active 12 years prior, when Marcella couldn’t crack the case, has reappeared, and she quickly soaks up the new details and goes back to work as a detective sergeant.
Marcella was created by Hans Rosenfeldt, who previously launched the original Scandinavian version of The Bridge, and here he’s lodged another complex female character amidst a bloody procedural. Marcella is vulnerable in her personal life, but obsessively driven on the job, with the dramatic friction drawn from the way these facets inform each other, often to her detriment. Extreme stress causes to have anger blackouts, as Jason learns first hand, but they become altogether more alarming when Marcella confronts a female co-worker of her husband’s, the privileged Grace Gibson (Maeve Dermody). The next day the women is missing and Marcella can’t remember what happened.
“Plenty of crazies out there,” one character observes, and the show is full of suspects for the serial killer, who is also hunting a sex worker, Cara (Florence Pugh), who unknowingly stole his trophies. But Marcella’s fears about her own actions mean that she is as suspicious of herself as she is the candidates, who she often harries and confronts in a way that alarms her new superiors. I’ve heard mixed reports of the recently added second season, but I’d recommend the first. As a guide Marcella is unreliable, yet that doesn’t mean she isn’t an instinctually good detective. That gives this drama an edge. In Marcella the how and the why have uncomfortable implications.
In Brief: Condor S1 (Stan): Stan has a bad track record when it comes to series spun out of successful movies, such as Wolf Creek and Romper Stomper, but this conspiracy thriller is a welcome change. Updating Sydney Pollack’s paranoid 1975 drama Three Days of the Condor, which plunged Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway into a deadly pursuit, Condor is a lean, persuasive tale built around a covert CIA analyst, Joe Turner (Max Irons), whose work gets everyone in his workplace bar him executed by professional killers. On the run from both the assassins and the authorities, who believe he’s the killer, he kidnaps an online date, Kathy Hale (Katherine Cunningham), and uses her home to law low. Staying alive, and trying to persuade Kathy of his innocence, are the immediate drivers, but the contemporary setting allows for a nuanced take on the information age, government service, and the clash of cultures. The momentum provides adrenalin, but the supporting cast – William Hurt as Joe’s uncle and CIA mentor and Brendan Fraser as a deeply damaged operative perverting patriotism – add a slow, seditious tingle.
New on Netflix: Lynn Shelton is one of America’s leading independent filmmakers, with Outside In (2018, 109 minutes) catching the unadorned drift between isolated protagonists in a Pacific northwest town when a man jailed for 20 years (Jay Duplass) spends time with the former teacher (Edie Falco) who campaigned for his release; if you must watch a bad movie, then Hollywood disaster flick Geostorm (2017, 109 minutes) is truly a disaster.
New on SBS On Demand: Mathieu Kassovitz’s La Haine (1996, 94 minutes) remains a landmark French film – a street level take on young lives, shot in black and white, from the little seen suburban banlieues that offered a new vision of France via scarifying energy and an introductory cast that included Vincent Cassel and Said Taghmaoui.
New on Stan: Eva Green proved she’s a femme fatale for the ages in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014, 103 minutes), but otherwise Robert Rodriguez’s star-studded, noir tribute is self-satisfied and uninspiring; an old Coen brothers screenplay dusted off and directed by George Clooney, Suburbicon (2017, 105 minutes) in a 1950s noir thriller set against a backdrop of racial division.
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