Binge-r #156: Unbelievable + Ramy
Streaming Service: Netflix
Availability: All eight episodes now streaming
A riveting crime drama that repeatedly explores with empathy areas the genre usually bypasses, Unbelievable is the story – based on real life events and the Pulitzer Prize-winning article that documented them – of the police hunt for a serial rapist. But it’s also a heart-rending examination of how rape victims can be damaged by the system meant to help them and a study of the sometimes fierce emotional landscape traversed by the female police detectives determined to apprehend a culprit. There are cases, there are false leads, there are whiteboards of information, but in Susannah Grant, Ayelet Waldman, and Michael Chabon’s series there is also a sense of loss and a level of shared experience that is transformative.
“Here comes help,” Marie (Kaitlyn Dever) is told when the police arrive after she reports that a masked man has broken into her Washington state apartment and raped her. It is 2008 and like other everyday sentences spoken with the best of intentions here that line proves to be deceptive. An abused child trying to transition from foster homes to adulthood, Marie is worn down and broken by an intractable system that starts to doubt her experience. The police are professional but adhere to uncaring protocols, and there’s an obvious contrast watching a Colorado detective, Karen Duvall (Merritt Wever), help and reassure a rape victim, Amber (Danielle Macdonald), who has been raped three years later in 2011. Both women have horrifying experiences, which are briefly but vividly illustrated from their perspective, but unlike Marie, Amber never feels that she’s become the criminal.
Karen’s 2011 case merges with a similar rape another Colorado detective, Grace Rasmussen (Toni Collette), is investigating, and these two determined women, who repeatedly shoot down attempts to shame them for their persistence, drive the plot forward. But the episodes, directed with candour by Grant and filmmaker Lisa Cholodenko (The Kids Are All Right), always return to Marie, who struggles to hold her life together as she’s vilified for not being the victim onlookers expected. Marie’s story is one of several elements here that defy expectations, and it’s as important as the sharp-edged working relationship between Karen and Grace; Dever, Collette, and Wever all give deeply inhabited performances. The terrible crimes that underpin Unbelievable never fade. In this masterful limited series nothing – and no-one – gets left behind.
RAMY (Stan, 10 episodes): A genre splice with authentic experience and spiky laughs, Ramy is a 20something bro comedy laid upon the American Muslim experience. New Jersey dude Ramy Hassan (co-creator Ramy Youssef) has a questionable job at a start-up, a tendency to waver, and a mind geared to simple pleasures, but he’s also the son of Egyptian Muslims, believes in God, and is interested in the comforts of a traditional marriage. His life isn’t that complicated, but the compromises he lets happen are – “I’m pro-us not having to make that choice,” he tells a Jewish girlfriend when the discussion turns to abortion. The show takes familiar second generation comedy tropes – such as Ramy’s immigrant parents, played by Hiam Abbass and Amr Waked – and gives them humorous parameters, and it sticks to the specifics of Ramy’s life instead of making wide-ranging observations about the pitfalls of being Muslim in contemporary America. Youssef has a guileless voice, and even as different episodes focus on the capable supporting cast, there’s a sweet undertone. The profanity and ribald encounters come from openness, not defiance.
NEWLY ADDED MOVIES
New on Netflix: Coherence (2013, 82 minutes) is an eerie brain-bending, no-budget sci-fi thriller about a group of friends whose chill dinner party starts to experience inexplicable events; the first of what is now many boilerplate and kill-happy Gerard Butler action films, Olympus Has Fallen (2013, 119 minutes) is a Die Hard remake set in the White House.
New on SBS on Demand: Jacques Audiard’s bracing Rust and Bone (2012, 123 minutes) is an unvarnished romantic drama driven by loss and consolation, with Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts giving exemplary performances as a couple trying to make sense of the damage they carry within themselves.
New on Stan: Do not be coerced by the star wattage – Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, and Sean Penn – of Gangster Squad (2013, 113 minutes), an overblown and cardboard-thin exercise in period gangster clichés; Katalina Varga (2009, 82 minutes) was the debut of the idiosyncratic British auteur Peter Strickland and it remains a compelling Eastern European domestic thriller of recriminations that deliver a telling finale.
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