Binge-r #153: Mindhunter + Cities of Last Things
Streaming Service: Netflix
Availability: All nine episodes now streaming, plus S1
The subject of Mindhunter, Netflix’s psychological period drama about the origins of the FBI’s Behavioural Science Unit, is America’s growing ranks of serial killers. But the show never depicts the outrages of those monstrous men or uses them as gaudy flashbacks – there are crime scene photos, chalk outlines, and jailhouse interviews, which form the parameters of an unknown void. The budding profilers are attempting to fill in the gaps that are lacerated throughout inexplicable and horrifying acts, and with absorbing detail and dread, that quest becomes a marathon of discovery and a test of self-control. I can’t think of another show that is essentially dialogue-based which is nonetheless so consistently ominous.
Beginning in April 1980, the show’s second season doesn’t have the writing input of creator Joe Penhall (The Road), but the storytelling carries on as tightly as the plot, which picks up just a few days after season one’s conclusion. The relationship between the team’s three key members – veteran agent Bill Tench (Holt McCallany), intuitive, empathetic rookie Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff), and psychology professor Wendy Carr (Anna Torv) – is never inert. As they interview incarcerated serial killers and assist ongoing investigations, their theories and personal dynamic mutate under the increasingly harsh light of self-recognition. Bill wonders what he is bringing home to his family, Holden’s obsessive nature threatens his mental health, and Wendy stops keeping her sexuality straitjacketed.
Producer David Fincher returns as the guiding director, lensing the first three episodes before handing over to Andrew Dominik and Carl Franklin, and he sets a template of coolly static takes that fix characters in an environment before investigating their psychological state. The lead performances, inoculated by the appearance of real-life sex killers such as Ed Kemper (Cameron Britton) and David Berkowitz, a.k.a. Son of Sam (Oliver Cooper), have the hum of complex, taut lives operating at distinct pitches. “There are no answers to questions you can’t even conceive,” an angry, grieving mother of a murdered Atlanta child tells Holden, and in a series as compelling as Mindhunter that’s both a promise and a punishment.
NEWLY ADDED MOVIES
CITIES OF LAST THINGS (Netflix, 2018, 106 minutes): There’s a pulpy kick and no shortage of noir-like archetypes to this Taiwanese drama, but as with the plot – which reveals three crucial days from the protagonist’s life in reverse chronological order – the filmmaking unfolds tender, unexpected layers and a mournful sense of contemplation across Ho Wi Ding’s film. A prize winner at the Toronto International Film Festival, Cities of Last Things moves not only from a Brave New World future to Taiwan’s recent past, it also sheds ageing despair for youthful regret. The character we see growing younger is Zhang Dong-ling (Jack Kao, Lee Hong-chi, and finally Hsieh Chang-ying), who is entangled with both sides of the law so that crime always brings punishment. Mood prevails over plot, which can be as reticent as Dong-ling, but the grain-soaked 35mm cinematography, courtesy of Jean-Louis Vialard, is exquisite, with shadowy nightscapes that you could disappear into.
New on Netflix: Robin Hood (2018, 116 minutes) is a diminished iteration of a classic tale, with Taron Egerton, Jamie Foxx, and Ben Mendelsohn going through the hectic motions; Aaron Sorkin and Mike Nichols make American interventionism into a droll study of personality and Cold War politics in Charlie Wilson’s War (2007, 101 minutes), where Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman play the real life trio who helped the U.S. first arm Afghanistan’s guerrillas in the 1980s.
New on SBS on Demand: Luc Besson came to New York and 12-year-old Natalie Portman made her debut in the crime thriller Leon: The Professional (1994, 127 minutes), where her orphan falls in with Jean Reno’s hitman as Gary Oldman’s crazed and corrupted cop hunts them; Martin Scorsese’s contrast of violence and spiritual belief was never more spelt out than in Kundun (1997, 134 minutes), a biopic of the Dalai Lama’s early years in Tibet.
New on Stan: The best of Clint Eastwood’s films this century, Million Dollar Baby (2004, 133 minutes) has the director training Hilary Swank’s hardscrabble boxer in a story that is stringent about self-belief and stern on faith; The Rebound (2009, 95 minutes) is a comedy that takes seriously the relationship between an older woman (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and a younger man (Justin Bartha) and what it might lead to.
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