Byrde On A Wire
Tripwire continues its list of its Top 30 Crime and Police shows, selected by its editor-in-chief and senior editor. Counting down to its first choice at the end, here’s its 12th entry, Netflix’s Ozark…
Creator: Bill Dubuque
Stars: Jason Bateman, Laura Linney, Julia Garner
Bill Dubuque and Mark Williams’ Netflix series about a middle class financial adviser from Chicago forced into money laundering in remote Missouri seems, at first glance, a corporate, lakeside version of Breaking Bad – there are overlaps, of course, with the Mexican cartel breathing down protagonist Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman)’s neck, as he desperately races against time to fulfil his end of a life-saving (i.e. they won’t kill him if he succeeds) deal.
However, the comparisons with Vince Gilligan’s tour de force can be overstated – yes there is a certain amount of magic realism, dark humour and a mise en scene of authentically grotty trailer parks dotted about the natural beauty of the Ozark waters, but this series is as much about the Byrde family’s culture shock concerning their new surroundings. The core of the drama is how Marty’s family gradually learn of their dad’s real occupation, along with Marty’s forensic, snappy brinkmanship that sees him constantly risk his life while expertly juggling finances and accounts in order to stay one step ahead of his murderous creditors, the FBI, the Langmore clan of misfits and local heroin magnates the Snells. In the end his family are inevitably co-opted, despite nearly falling apart, while Marty somehow manipulates events to sow discord among his enemies.
Despite stretching credibility at times, Ozark is a study in naturalism, mores, and the skewed margins of backwoods America. It scores heavily in that the threat experienced by the Byrde family is constantly palpable, the serene, lush landscape underscored by the Southern Gothic lurking just beneath the surface, not to mention the drug cartel’s jet black limousines a relentless, ever-present harbinger of retribution. Beautifully shot and framed, Ozark is a series that needed to work hard to be compelling but succeeds due to clever, fine-tuned plotting, fresh concepts and an ensemble of well-crafted antagonists who have considerable depth despite their obvious venality. It is their inner conflicts and weaknesses that allow the wily, cerebral Byrde to thrive against the odds.
What is even more impressive, and what keeps one hooked as much as everything else, are the performances, with the women actors equally outstanding. Laura Linney’s multi-layered effort as Wendy, Marty’s wife, is one of the best screen turns in living memory – her inner battle to retain her soul and humanity is breathtakingly good. Sofia Hublitz is mature and assured as their daughter Charlotte, while Julia Garner’s Ruth Langmore is a pitch perfect study in mercenary ruthlessness underpinned by vulnerability. Also worth mentioning are Peter Mullan and Lisa Emery as the heroin-dealing, hillbilly (not redneck!) Ozark grandees the Snells. The pair chew scenery with the best of them, their overbearing psychosis, grizzled archness and steely native pride a brilliantly virtuoso effort from both. A spotlight also for Tom Pelphrey as Wendy’s bipolar brother Ben, for an astoundingly committed effort as the character who generates the most harrowing subplot of all.
Overall Ozark deserves high praise due to its strong production values, expertise across the board and its ability to grip its audience despite all the relationship shifts within the cast, myriad plot strands and its inherent one-upmanship in terms of matching its illustrious predecessors, which of course is a tough ask. And like its forebears, there’s an awful lot of snap or unexpected murder involved, but this device rarely compromises the narrative even if it does get a wee bit gratuitous at times. Bateman’s Marty does tend to be somewhat aloof and enigmatic throughout, adjusting to radically new realities with detached indifference, but then he is the POV character. And with one series to go, it’s still manifestly uncertain as to whether he’ll end up the same way as Walter White. Here’s to the conclusion of a great series.
Ozark is on Netflix in the UK and the US