“Goliath” — A New Amazon Prime Winner

 

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This is a bingeworthy new eight-episode series from Amazon. “Goliath” characters are deeply flawed and yet vividly human and at least, to some extent, understandable. “Goliath” is extraordinary television.

Part film noir, part legal drama similar to “Good Wife” or “Law and Order”, with a bit of “Damages” and “House of Cards” thrown in, “Goliath” tells the story of a derelict, drunken grizzled lawyer, Billy McBride (played by Billy Bob Thornton in a star turn).   McBride was once a leading legal mind who, with Donald Cooperman (the haunting William Hurt in one of the best roles of his career) had started one of the most powerful law firms in Los Angeles. Now Billy McBride is a bottom-feeder taking on a case which turns out to be against Cooperman. Think of the movie “Lincoln Lawyer” (see my April 5, 2011 review).

Billy McBride’s former law firm still bears his name and the opposing counsel at Cooperman-McBride are simply over-the-top in their ferocity and callous pursuit of victory. Donald Cooperman is a nightmare of Shakespearean proportions who monitors all legal proceedings like a voyeur through his complex closed circuit surveillance system. His legal staff pursue the case while he watches as if it were a gladiator fight.

Hurt’s Cooperman is unforgettable, cunning and unforgivable. Thornton’s grizzled McBride is evenly matched to battle Cooperman in court. [A bit more backstory on some of the key players would have been welcomed.]

In addition to the startling cast (which includes supporting roles by the superb Maria Bello and Molly Parker)  the script for “Goliath” is masterfully written by David E. Kelley (of “Ally McBeal” and “Boston Legal” fame).   The cinematography lends a a very strong visual identity to downtown LA, Santa Monica, and Venice, particularly with the driving scenes and time- lapse shots

But perhaps the most idiosyncratic of the episodes in the “Goliath” series is the last minute of the last episode. It is one of the most ambiguous I have ever seen in a movie or have read in a novel. “Goliath” left me wondering and wanting more. There are too many unanswered questions and too many characters with unresolved futures. I must see a second season of “Goliath”. Amazon is currently in negotiations for giving us more!

“Prisoners”: Kidnapping Your Mind

 

PrisonersThis provocative film opens with a father and son hunting in the woods, the Lord’s Prayer recited in voiceover.  The viewer sees the father, Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) as a deeply religious man, a carpenter who believes in family values and the safety of his community.  When his little girl and her friend go missing on Thanksgiving Day, the world he has believed in is destroyed. “Prisoners” is a powerful tale of human nature gone awry.  What are parents capable of in their darkest moment, when their worst nightmare happens?

Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is put in charge of the investigation and immediately arrests a mentally compromised driver of an RV, Alex Jones (the mesmerizing Paul Dano), because his vehicle had been parked nearby.   However, due to a lack of physical evidence, Jones is released.

“Prisoners” is not for the fainthearted.  Although violent and disturbing, the twists in the multiple crimes are riveting and the clues are tautly woven together.  Detective Loki pursues different leads while both girls’ families begin to unravel.  Keller’s wife (Maria Bello) is seen mostly in fetal position, sedated and semi-comatose from the loss.  The other parents in grief and desperation (played by Terrence Howard and Viola Davis) raise serious moral issues but the viewer is left with questions unanswered.  In some ways, the extreme suspense of “Prisoners” contributes to an equally disturbing portrait of characters who are convinced they have morality on their side.Hugh Jackman

 

 

Although an unusually long film (153 minutes), “Prisoners” sucks the viewer in from the first frame.  Its portrayal of the  desperate nature of people who believe they are good, righteous God-fearing people with strong moral convictions is nothing short of dazzling.   When their view of the world turns upside down, all hell breaks loose. No more can be said about the plot, without giving away too much.  That being said,  this film is a model for screenplays, with unexpected tensions in almost every scene.  While some threads of the plot are not neatly tied together (perhaps edited out), the substance of this thriller with its astounding cast will kidnap your mind.

 

“Shattered”–aka “Butterfly on a Wheel”

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This intriguing tale of vengeance is centered on a theme found in Alexander Pope’s Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot” (1735) in which placing undue effort on a minor issue is like breaking a “butterfly on a wheel”.  And this first-rate thriller was so named in its British and Canadian release (2007), to be retitled “Shattered” for an American audience.

The story takes place in Chicago, where Neil Randall (played by the surprisingly good Gerald Butler) is an executive of an advertising agency. He is a cunning ad man plotting his path to the top while also a family man with a beautiful and sexy wife, Abby (Maria Bello) and a lovely young daughter, Sophie.  He is living the American Dream.

His wife Abby hires a babysitter so that she and her husband can spend the weekend at the CEO’s country house, presumably to cultivate even more political points to becoming his successor.  Without giving away too much of the plot, all I will say is that a mysterious intruder, Tom Ryan (the exceptional Pierce Brosnan) turns their world upside down. While keeping the couple under his total control, he makes it clear that his overriding intention is to destroy Neil’s perfect life.

“Shattered” is paced to perfection.  What unfolds rapidly is a cat-and-mouse game in which the clues and menace are only hinted at, but always cleverly hidden.  There are so many curves along the way, that even when viewers think they have figured out motivation and outcome, with a plot this peppered with red herrings, the vast majority will be thrown off track.

Once again, we get to see that Pierce Brosnan is not just another pretty face, but capable of remarkable acting in a role contrary to those he has played in the past.  Maria Bello is often unrecognized even though she consistently is outstanding, as she is here.  And Gerald Butler is perhaps featured in his only respectable role to date, revealing that he really can act.

“Shattered” should have received major distribution, great fanfare, advance hype and viral marketing, as well as viewer recommendations.I wonder how such a gem flew under the radar. Perhaps a little more effort should have been placed on this edgy little sleeper of a movie.