The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television - Graeme Blun­dell The Last Pan­thers, Hunted,

Some classy Euro drama re­turns to SBS this week just as The Bridge fi­nally fades from view, though it’s hard to for­get the stub­born, emo­tion­ally vul­ner­a­ble Saga Noren, played with such wrench­ing au­then­tic­ity by Sofia Helin. With her abrupt, con­fronting an­swers, emo­tional can­dour and the repet­i­tive Asperger’s-style in­ten­sity, plus that green­ish-brown 1970s Porsche, brown leather trousers and flow­ing mil­i­tarystyle trench coat, surely she’s one of TV’s great­est de­tec­tives.

The Last Pan­thers, also on SBS, couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent, though the plot­ting of this six­parter may turn out to be just as com­pelling and labyrinthine. It’s cer­tainly a pis­tol shot away from Ro­manzo Crim­i­nale (which has started up again late on Mon­days, also on SBS), the true story of the no­to­ri­ous and highly dan­ger­ous Ital­ian crime fam­ily, Rome’s Banda della Magliana. It’s also more ex­pan­sive and less claus­tro­pho­bic than that other great French crime se­ries, Olivier Mar­chal’s Braquo, with its vi­o­lent rule book-ig­nor­ing cops and that dis­tinc­tive nou­velle vague ex­is­ten­tial edge, but just as grip­ping once it gets un­der way.

The Last Pan­thers is a kind of six-hour high­end Euro­pean art movie. A joint pan-Euro­pean com­mis­sion from Bri­tain’s Sky and France’s Canal+, it was filmed in Mar­seilles, Bel­grade, Mon­tene­gro and Lon­don. Is it based on an idea by French jour­nal­ist Jerome Pier­rat, and was co-cre­ated and writ­ten by Jack Thorne ( Skins) and di­rected by Swedish mu­sic-video mas­ter Jo­han Renck ( Break­ing Bad).

This is a crime ca­per in which the char­ac­ters cross many bor­ders and speak many lan­guages, trans­port­ing us into a mod­ern-day Europe be­lea­guered by new forms of crime that op­er­ate on a vi­o­lent, epic scale.

The show takes its name from a no­to­ri­ous gang of jewel thieves known as the Pink Pan­thers, who rose to fame with their bold day­light raids and movie-style get­aways, gain­ing their mis­chievous nick­name af­ter the fa­mous Pink Pan­ther film fran­chise. Since 1999 they have been linked to more than 383 rob­beries and thefts in 35 coun­tries, es­cap­ing back home, like comic-book he­roes, to the safety of the Balkans and the pro­tec­tion of cor­rupt or in­ept of­fi­cials.

The first episode be­gins with an au­da­cious heist in Mar­seilles (“the city of the Kalash­nikov”, ac­cord­ing to one mag­is­trate) by a gang of white-over­alled, pis­tol-wav­ing thieves who take a cache of ex­pen­sive di­a­monds from an up­mar­ket jew­ellery shop. In the process they tip a bar­rel of pink paint over the ter­ri­fied fe­male man­ager in a kind of trib­ute to the orig­i­nal Pan­thers.

But their get­away is a disas­ter: a six-year old girl on hol­i­day with her par­ents is shot and killed. On the run, their bounty be­comes so tainted (“bad di­a­monds that can only be sold at a bad price”), they are de­serted by their des­ig­nated buyer and end up hunted by the po­lice, In­ter­pol and the in­sur­ance com­pany cov­er­ing the jewellers.

On their trail is high-end loss ad­juster Naomi Frankcom (Sa­man­tha Mor­ton, ex­ud­ing in­tel­li­gence), a Bri­tish Army vet­eran scarred from her time in the Balkans as a mem­ber of the UN Pro­tec­tion Force dur­ing the 1990s. Re­luc­tant to “do the Balkans” again, she is co­erced into the job by her boss Tom Ken­dle (a won­der­fully jaded John Hurt), who turns up in Mar­seilles (“gate­way to Africa, ar­se­hole to France”, he drawls) to de­liver the news.

Khalil (dou­ble Ce­sar Award win­ner Ta­har Rahim) is the “cow­boy” French-Al­ge­rian de­tec­tive who prac­ti­cally as­signs him­self to “fol­low the guns” and crack the case. Just ahead of the law is the lead di­a­mond raider, the brood­ing Mi­lan (Croa­t­ian star Go­ran Bog­dan), aka An­i­mal in his for­mer life as a mas­ter crook.

The first part of the episode em­ploys the vis­ual ver­nac­u­lar of the thriller, flu­ently stage­m­an­aged by Renck, but turns darker and more som­bre by the end. Naomi’s ex­pe­ri­ences in the for­mer Yu­goslavia re­turn in flash­back and her own vi­o­lent mem­o­ries and the emerg­ing sto­ries of Khalil and Mi­lan start to in­form the nar­ra­tive, spi­ralling back­wards to Bos­nia dur­ing the dark days of the Balkan con­flict.

Renck’s di­rec­tion has a bur­nished look, all greys, black and cream, at times rem­i­nis­cent of The Wire and The French Con­nec­tion. David Bowie pro­vided the theme song of the show shortly be­fore he died, a brood­ing track ti­tled Black­star, and Warp Mu­sic’s Clark has pro­vided the sound­track, which the mu­si­cian de­scribes “as a con­tin­u­ous slab of liq­uid melan­choly”, adding a kind of al­most bib­li­cal grandeur to some of di­rec­tor of pho­tog­ra­phy Lau­rent Tangy’s ethe­real, slow wide shots. Our jewel thieves might be able to cross Europe’s bor­ders anony­mously but they’ll find it harder when the se­ries takes them to Bri­tain. Once the bas­tion of free­dom and civil lib­er­ties, it’s now one of the most ad­vanced sur­veil­lance so­ci­eties in the world, up there with Rus­sia and China. Even if you have done noth­ing wrong, there is still much to fear, with one closed-cir­cuit cam­era for ev­ery 11 peo­ple, and a vast elec­tronic foot­print cre­ated from cash with­drawals, su­per­mar­ket shop­ping, texts, calls and so­cial me­dia posts.

This is hardly news to avid read­ers of Bri­tish crime writ­ers such as John Har­vey, Ian Rankin or Mark Billing­ham, but it’s a shock when this re­al­ity is doc­u­mented so foren­si­cally in real life as it is in Hunted, a riv­et­ing six-part se­ries from Shine and Chan­nel 4.

Four­teen Bri­tish cit­i­zens are given fugi­tive sta­tus and go rather ma­ni­a­cally on the run. For up to 28 days they at­tempt to evade cap­ture from some of the world’s best in­ves­ti­ga­tors, in­clud­ing the pen­e­trat­ing Brett Love­grove, for­mer head of counter-ter­ror­ism for City of Lon­don Po­lice, who led the re­sponse to the 7/7 bomb­ings and is a firm be­liever in the state’s pow­ers. He wran­gles a team of 30 hun­ters care­fully se­lected from law en­force­ment, mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence, cy­ber anal­y­sis, on­line pro­fil­ing and hu­man track­ing.

The par­tic­i­pants all flee si­mul­ta­ne­ously, set­ting up a mul­ti­ple man­hunt while the clock ticks down, in­tensely mon­i­tored from a se­cret com­mand-and-con­trol cen­tre over­flow­ing with an­a­lysts at com­puter ter­mi­nals and the grim-faced for­mer cops and in­tel­li­gence agents on their white boards. They feed in­tel­li­gence to the on­ground teams of “hun­ters”, their black cars and vans parked in op­por­tune spots across the coun­try.

As the fugi­tives soon find out, hid­ing in Bri­tain isn’t easy when ev­ery­thing they do leaves a trail. It’s also psy­cho­log­i­cally ex­haust­ing.

This su­perla­tive game of cat-and-mouse, cap­tured 24 hours a day over four weeks, cer­tainly lives up to its blurb as “the first ever fac­tual thriller on tele­vi­sion”. It’s an­other ex­am­ple of the way doc­u­men­tary is now merg­ing so en­ter­tain­ingly with fic­tion, its tra­di­tional val­ues of strong nar­ra­tive and gen­uine so­cial in­sight il­lu­mi­nated in ways that are mod­ern and rel­e­vant.

Hunted has all the ki­netic en­ergy of the Ja­son Bourne movies, with a lot of vis­ceral hand­held jerk­i­ness as each jit­tery fugi­tive is shad­owed by a cam­era op­er­a­tive record­ing their time on the run, liv­ing un­der the same con­di­tions.

And as in the case of 24, the pac­ing is in­tense, the screen bom­bard­ing us with in­for­ma­tion, John Hurt as Tom Ken­dle in

top; coun­tert­er­ror­ism ex­perts in Hunted, above left, search for re­al­ity-TV ‘fugi­tives’, such as the one above

The and the se­ries car­ries a sim­i­lar sense of vis­ual hy­per­ac­tiv­ity.

The cam­eras film as the ab­scon­ders run down main streets to ATMs while hid­ing their faces, swap ve­hi­cles, pull wigs on, stag­ger into deep forests to hide — though with lit­tle of Jack Bauer’s in­sou­ciance or his com­bat and tac­ti­cal ef­fi­ciency — as they try to evade cap­ture with no out­side help, just that sin­gle, silent cam­er­ap­er­son on their shoul­der.

A dis­claimer sug­gests much of the chase is fic­tion­alised: “For the pur­poses of this se­ries, some pow­ers of state have been repli­cated, in­clud­ing CCTV and ANPR (au­to­matic num­ber­plate recog­ni­tion).” But, while ob­vi­ously mak­ing use of ex­ten­sive — and imag­i­na­tively re­alised re­con­struc­tions — the se­ries cer­tainly gives an im­pres­sion of au­then­tic­ity in re­pro­duc­ing the state’s omi­nous pow­ers in this en­ter­tain­ing so­cial ex­per­i­ment ex­plor­ing the bal­ance be­tween pri­vacy and se­cu­rity.

Sure, it’s a rol­lick­ing TV game, but it does ask many per­plex­ing ques­tions about free­dom and state sur­veil­lance — and just hap­pens to be a rat­tling good thriller as well.

Thurs­day, 8.30pm, SBS Two. Wed­nes­day, 8.30pm, ABC Two.

Last Pan­thers,

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