SKY ATLANTIC OUT 4 SEPTEMBER episodes viewed ALL
CREATOR Rowan Joffe CAST Tim Roth, Christina Hendricks, Genevieve O’reilly, Abigail Lawrie, Christopher Heyerdahl, Kevin Hanchard, Oliver Coopersmith
Struggling with alcoholism and haunted by a mysterious past, former London cop Jim Worth (Roth) has moved his family to a quiet town in the Canadian Rockies. Then, personal tragedy strikes, forcing him to tangle with criminals and shady oil execs in a dangerous, bloody quest for retribution.
A SELF-DESTRUCTIVE anti-hero grappling with personal demons, a conflicted wife forced into murderous complicity with her husband, horrifying criminal deeds in a picturesque rural setting, hard-drinking cops willing to bend the rules to see justice done; not even the most charitable observer would describe
Tin Star’s primary components as particularly box-fresh or under-explored. In fact, set against some of the criticisms levelled at Netflix’s recent
Breaking Bad-ish thriller Ozark, this ten-parter looks like an easy target for more justified grousing about prestige TV’S unshakeable obsession with the cliché of the “difficult man”.
And yet, helped by a beguilingly unusual and morally complex central performance from Tim Roth, Sky Atlantic’s latest blockbuster original just about hangs together, achieving some interesting new things with its familiar tropes and building to a conclusion that — although it strains credulity at times — never lacks for thrills or surprises. Created by writer-director Rowan Joffe (scriptwriter on
The American and director of 2010’s Brighton Rock), it’s of a piece with his past explorations of masculinity, murder and its consequences.
Gruff cockney Jim Worth (Roth) is the relatively new police chief in Little Big Bear, a postcard-pretty town in the Canadian Rockies where a tourist twisting an ankle is about as rough as it gets crime-wise. A recovering alcoholic, Worth has brought his wife (the steely Genevieve O’reilly) and kids to a new country in a bid to stay sober and also flee mysterious turmoil back in London. Inevitably, Worth’s past soon catches up with him. Just as he faces off against the shady PR chief of an oil company looking to establish a refinery in the town (Christina Hendricks), unknown rivals enact a heinously violent attack on his family.
There’s some stylistic wobbliness to these early scenes — one moment the show packs
pulpy Fargo-like weirdness or dreamy flourishes worthy of Twin Peaks, the next it’s an unblinking, naturalistic examination of grief — but, essentially, an intricate mystery unfurls from the Worth family’s response to this tragedy. Jim, of course, struggles to stay away from the bottle as he seeks to find the attackers; Angela, O’reilly’s character, has to recover psychologically and physically; their homesick teenage daughter Anna (Abigail Lawrie) slowly wakes to the fact her parents have all manner of half-buried secrets.
What’s more, as the layers of what we think we’re in for — a fairly conventional tale of a reformed small-town cop spurred into action — are peeled away, intriguing questions emerge. Who is this fearsome Jack Devlin character who keeps being mentioned in reference to Worth? Why is Whitey, Oliver Coopersmith’s sadistic British pretty boy, lurking on the fringes? How does North Shore Oil security boss/shaven-headed Bond villain Louis Gagnon (Christopher Heyerdahl) fit into it all? And what’s the significance of the snake tattoo on Worth’s back that keeps coming in for foreboding, lingering close-ups?
By and large, Tin Star’s tricksy episodes make a decent fist of answering these questions, while also swirling in a hot-button subplot examining how the oil refinery brings brawling biker gangs, strip joints and malevolent corporate forces to a once-tranquil town. To be clear, there are patchy stretches. The scripts — seven of which are written by Joffe — aim for an earthy poetry that doesn’t always come off (“When someone dies, someone you love, you sort of breathe death in, like germs,” says Lawrie’s character at some point, unconvincingly). And there’s also a wider question, especially given Joffe’s big-screen background, of whether Tin Star may have made for a tighter six-parter or even a film: stylistic experiments are repeated (there are at least three mysterious cold opens that flash back to fill in the blanks) and as the violence builds, the sight of one character pointing a gun at another pretty much loses all impact.
But just as you think you have it pegged there’s normally a riveting surprise or tarblack joke to suck you back in. And a lot of this emanates from Roth. The former Mr Orange’s performance as Worth — a crumpled, sardonic anti-hero and bloodied wrecking ball who never seems fazed in even the darkest circumstances — takes a while to adjust to. But, just like the show he’s at the centre of, this troubled modern-day gunslinger is a fascinating, thoroughly watchable enigma. VERDICT Playing like Cronenberg’s A History Of Violence scripted by Guy Ritchie, Sky Atlantic’s latest series is an imperfect but thrilling revenge saga elevated by Tim Roth’s strange, unstoppable central turn.
Clockwise from left:
Jim Worth (Tim Roth) hits the bar with Constable Denise (Sarah Podemski); Worth’s daughter Anna (Abigail Lawrie) gets defensive; Even in the grand expanse of new home Little Big Bear, Roth’s police chief hasn’t escaped his own demons.