Ac­tor punches up that old PI for­mula

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv -

IT’S a tru­ism that great ac­tors can trans­form leaden lines into po­etry, im­bue hack­neyed char­ac­ters with be­liev­able, in­di­vid­ual life and make even the most trans­par­ent, fatu­ous plot seem Machi­avel­lian in its in­tri­cacy. It has saved tele­vi­sion from its in­nate in­cli­na­tion to­wards the dumb end of town, where the for­mula rules and big rat­ings are achieved.

Con­sider, for in­stance, Gre­gory House, the mis­an­thropic, painracked, Per­co­dan-gob­bling lead char­ac­ter of House .

He suc­ceeds only be­cause he is played by Hugh Lau­rie, who makes an en­thralling strug­gle out of his char­ac­ter’s weekly and only fit­fully suc­cess­ful ef­forts to rec­on­cile his pro­fes­sional obli­ga­tions as a di­ag­nos­ti­cian with his loathing for most of the peo­ple he meets, and that in­cludes his pa­tients.

Lau­rie’s tri­umph is to make us care about House and hope that he can find some rea­son to love us. He doesn’t, but that doesn’t stop us hop­ing. And watch­ing.

Without Lau­rie, House would never have gone to air. In ev­ery other re­spect, though, it is an­other for­mu­laic hospi­tal show, al­beit with a pen­chant for the most ar­cane and grue­some dis­eases and syn­dromes.

Ray Win­stone, who plays the ti­tle role in Vin­cent , a slick Bri­tish pri­vate eye se­ries, proved he had the same kind of right stuff when, in vin­tage scene-steal­ing form, he came up against Ben Kings­ley in Sexy Beast . Win­stone held his own, cour­tesy of his ‘‘ hey, let’s chill’’ re­straint that bril­liantly caught the essence of his char­ac­ter, a re­tired cock­ney gang­ster liv­ing in Spain, vis­ited by Kings­ley’s metic­u­lous and deadly char­ac­ter with

The right stuff: Ray Win­stone in a plan for one last big job. He proves it yet again in Vin­cent, which is stan­dard fare for the genre, up­dated to en­com­pass the op­por­tu­ni­ties pre­sented by mod­ern tech­nol­ogy: his of­fice is no dusty, run­down af­fair with a half-empty bot­tle of bour­bon on the desk, in­hab­ited by a glum PI ex­am­in­ing a patch of sun­light on his an­kle as he waits for a blonde to walk through the door.

It may be genre TV, but Win­stone makes it mem­o­rable.

Tonight sees Vin­cent work­ing for free to as­sist a priest whose com­mu­nity cen­tre is un­der siege from a gang of young punks. The cen­tre is in one of those ubiq­ui­tous memo­ri­als to failed ur­ban dreams, a crowded, crime-fes­ter­ing high-rise hous­ing es­tate. For me the high point is when Vin­cent tries to in­ter­est one of the hoons in tak­ing a few hits at the punch­ing bag. He even gives it a few whacks, just to let them know how to do it and, of course, to demon­strate to them that he’s handy with his fists in case they want to try it on. His puz­zled dis­ap­point­ment when they turn him down is a neat mas­ter­class in how to un­der­play a scene.

Mark But­ler


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