dvd let­ter­box

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews - Michael Bodey

AMER­I­CAN tele­vi­sion is hooked on an­ti­heroes. Every­where you turn, crit­ics and au­di­ences are fall­ing over them­selves to revel in the mis­ad­ven­tures and Machi­avel­lian ma­noeu­vres of Mad Men’s Don Draper or Break­ing Bad’s Wal­ter White. A fleet­ing and by no means com­pre­hen­sive rush through mod­ern Amer­i­can adult drama sug­gests the an­ti­hero is de rigueur. Not that DVD Let­ter­box would hint this sup­ports its con­tention from a few weeks back that the en­tire genre is per­haps over­rated.

A while ago, The So­pra­nos’ Tony was the an­ti­hero of choice and one of the first we saw on a medium that was more in­ter­ested in cre­at­ing char­ac­ters that would ap­pease and warm a mass mar­ket. Then came The Wire’s Jimmy McNulty and an aber­ra­tion on free-toair tele­vi­sion, House’s Dr Gre­gory House, a mis­an­thrope who fixed people.

Now you can’t turn on a tele­vi­sion with­out see­ing Cal­i­for­ni­ca­tion’s Hank; Dex­ter’s Dex­ter; Nurse Jackie; the en­tire cast of Sons of An­ar­chy; Board­walk Em­pire’s Nucky; or House of Cards’ Frank Underwood. Which, come to think of it, is why Or­ange is the New Black’s Piper was so re­fresh­ing.

Not that one would blindly dis­miss an an­ti­hero as an en­ter­tain­ment. Af­ter all, we’re all so schooled in how to read tele­vi­sion and film to­day, only the char­ac­ters who defy or up-end nar­ra­tive con­ven­tions main­tain our at­ten­tion.

Look at di­rec­tor Christo­pher Nolan, for in­stance. He built a ca­reer, and ar­guably spawned the sub­se­quent suc­cess of the Marvel movie se­ries, by de­liv­er­ing a flawed su­per­hero, The Dark Knight, not the all­con­quer­ing su­per­hero.

Which is a con­vo­luted way of ask­ing this week’s DVD ques­tion: did tele­vi­sion need an­other an­ti­hero, in Ray Dono­van (MA15+, Para­mount, 610min, $54.99)?

It did if he is played by Liev Schreiber. He plays the ti­tle char­ac­ter, a “fixer” for an LA law firm who would not be lost in an El­more Leonard or James Ell­roy novel.

He is the con­ven­tional an­ti­hero, al­ways able to clean up messes while fend­ing off the ladies and smoul­der­ing like stars do. More un­con­ven­tional is the lay­er­ing of his world — pop­u­lated by the amoral and awk­ward mi­lieu of Hol­ly­wood mal­con­tents — with a dys­func­tional clan of broth­ers and a dad from Bos­ton. So it’s Den­nis Le­hane meets mod­ern Ell­roy — cre­ated by South­land’s Ann Bi­der­man.

Ray’s im­me­di­ate fam­ily is merely a fly in his oint­ment next to the mael­strom of his ex-con fa­ther, Mickey (Jon Voight), and two broth­ers — Terry (Ed­die Marsan) for­mer boxer suf­fer­ing from Parkin­son’s and Bunchy (Dash Mi­hok), an al­co­holic who was sex­u­ally abused as a child by a priest. Voight gives one of his bet­ter per­for­mances. In­deed, this is one of the bet­ter en­sem­bles on TV.

If you can over­come the lead char­ac­ter’s brood­ing, then the fam­ily dy­nam­ics will hook you. Yes, we do need an­other an­ti­hero.

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