Saturday, July 18, 2020

Criminal | Lefsetz Letter

This was recommended to me.

It’s a police procedural, on Netflix, and the gimmick is there are four editions, one for England, one for Germany, one for France and one for Spain. I was worried about seeing them in order, but the truth is they were all launched, or as the kids say, “dropped” (what is the derivation of that word, now anything can be dropped, not just records) on the same day, September 20, 2019, not that there’s been any buzz, at least none that has crossed my threshold.

So Felice wanted to start with the U.K. To tell you the truth, I prefer a foreign language, it’s more exotic, it titillates me in a way, I love going to countries where I do not speak the language, I love that barrier, that difference, it makes me feel alive. Oh sure, the U.K. is great, but when you’re someplace where you have to live by your wits, that thrills me.

I check how many episodes there are. Three, that’s strange, usually there’s ten, sometimes six or eight. Three is digestible, enough to get the complete story across, but the show doesn’t unfold like I think it will, in that each one is self-contained, other than the investigators, one does not connect with another, so you can watch just one and get it, have a completely satisfying experience, and that’s what I’m recommending you do, watch just one episode of “Criminal: UK,” the second one, featuring Hayley Atwell.

The first stars David Tennant, who was so great in “Broadchurch.” He’s not quite that great in this, he’s good, but he doesn’t open up until three quarters through the inquiry, that’s the role unfortunately, I wanted more of him.

But Hayley Atwell…

I’ve never heard of her. But as I look at her Wikipedia page I see she’s in the “Avenger” movies, not that I’ve seen one, life is too short for comic books, I want real life, the truth, and that’s what Ms. Atwell evidences in this episode.

David Tennant is a doctor, dignified, whereas Hayley Atwell plays someone much further down the social stratum, in a country where class matters, where it’s hard to climb up the ladder but people are cool with it. We’re reaching a similar situation in the U.S., it’s just that people are not cool with it.

So, they’re trying to get the story out of Hayley. She’s sassy, voluble, unlike David Tennant in his episode. She’s not scared of the investigators, she’ll tell her story.

Now the nature of this show is the accused says one thing and then another story unfolds. I’m really not giving anything away, once you reach the Atwell episode you know the formula, from the Tennant one that precedes it.

But it’s the story of her life that is so riveting.

Everybody’s got a life, everybody has sex, or wants to, doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor. And everybody is tempted, and everybody gets caught up in the moment. That’s’ one thing about crime, your life is chugging along, if not quite swimmingly, at least adequately, and then one false move later, the whole picture changes, and it’s never the same thereafter, and you get no do-overs, no matter how well you did in school, no matter how much you love your mother it’s irrelevant, you did it.

So when Hayley tells the story of her sister… Whew! Sibling relationships, they’re primary, they’re fraught with issues, these are the people closest to you but oftentimes you wish they were far away.

So Hayley Atwell’s performance is so spectacular I had to remark upon it to Felice during the episode. I never used to talk watching TV, but when you watch these series and get to know the characters…

You’re looking at the flat screen and you truly believe Atwell is this person. She goes from confrontational, to acceptance, and then vulnerability, and then pleading…just like a real person would.

I don’t want to tell you more. But the truth is despite the plethora of product, excellence still stands out. I’m not sure we’re going to watch any more of “Criminal,” but it was far from a waste because of this second U.K. episode, because of Hayley Atwell’s performance.

In America a movie star is something different. They’re always beautiful, with no imperfections, they’re always people you’d want to have sex with, oftentimes with little acting ability.

And then there are those who are lauded for their technique, but the truth is their technique supersedes their performance, you just cannot believe they’re somebody other than the star. Of course there are exceptions, even Jack Nicholson, but maybe because he grew up in pulp, B-movies, with Roger Corman.

The movie business used to be exciting, it was the talk of not only the town, but the world. Studio heads were gods. Going to the movies was a ritual, especially in the late sixties into the seventies. The flicks were fodder for conversation. And a good deal were made by the major studios, and then there were those that were not.

Today anybody can make a movie, and oftentimes it seems like anybody does. Your iPhone is 4k, Soderbergh and others have shot features on them. But this technology didn’t exist half a century ago. Films were expensive, and the independent ones, the cheap ones, were made completely differently from the studio pictures. They were done fast, with experimentation, people filled multiple roles, in front and behind the camera. Production had the vibe of “let’s put on a show,” and oftentimes the result was dreck, or close to it, but there were plenty of gems too.

That’s the world Jack Nicholson came up in. So he evidences a weird credibility, believability, in every role. Sure, he’s Jack, but oftentimes you don’t see him as Jack, whereas those classically trained, in universities, frequently don’t resonate as well on film, or can’t hide their identity, like Meryl Streep. Oh, she’s great, and sometimes she blends into the role, but frequently she does not, but in Hollywood once you’re built-up, once you’re accepted, you stay on your perch unless you screw up, you see the system needs heroes, people to believe in. And the strange thing about internet culture is the ones we believe in are frequently the hoi polloi. Bari Weiss may bitch about social media hate and bullying, but the truth is regular participants in the social media world, unlike those in the establishment, puffed up with their degrees, hiding behind the masthead, know this goes with the territory, it’s de rigueur, you’re not supposed to complain, that does you no good, you need to just jump into the fire and stay there, and in the world of so many distractions what you think is so important is a case of myopia, the truth is other than those in your little circle, most people don’t know and don’t care, and events are soon forgotten. You never want to take yourself out of the game, you never want to whine and moan, because that means you don’t understand the game whatsoever.

But the truth is Hayley Atwell was classically trained. But in the U.K., where actors move fluidly from stage to film to TV, they are performers, the emphasis is not on stardom, but the role.

So… I think I’ve spewed enough. But I was touched by Hayley Atwell’s performance. That’s what I like about these series, getting into the world portrayed, forgetting about regular life, believing these people are the characters, and when I clicked the flat screen off the mood sustained and I thought…

I’ve got to tell people about this.


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