Tag Archives: Netflix drama

NETFLIX REVIEW – THE SPY (2019)

NETFLIX REVIEW – THE SPY (2019)

Directed by: Gideon Raff

Executive producer(s): Gideon Raff, Sacha Baron Cohen

Producer(s): Alain Goldman

Screenplay by: Gideon Raff & Max Perry based on the book L’espion qui venait d’Israël – written by Uri Dan and Yeshayahu Ben Porat.

Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Noah Emmerich, Hadar Ratzon-Rotem, Yael Eitan, Nassim Si Ahmed, Moni Moshonov, Alona Tal, Mourad Zaoui, Alexander Siddig, Marc Maurille, Waleed Zuaiter, Arié Elmaleh, Hassam Ghancy, Uri Gavriel etc.

Distribution: Netflix



There’s a wonderful scene in a later episode of The Spy (2019) where Sacha Baron Cohen’s undercover Israeli agent laments his split identity. Taking on a Syrian alter ego in order to infiltrate their military and government infrastructure has meant Eli Cohen has sacrificed his safety and family life to become businessmen, Kamal Amin Thaabet. After years of successfully inveigling his way into the Syrian system, these battling personalities have created a psychological rift. As Eli spills his guts to handler, Dan Peleg (Noah Emmerich), he is so conflicted he feels Eli is lost and Kamal has taken over. He no longer knows who he is from one moment to the next. It’s a great scene and, like he does throughout this compelling drama, Baron Cohen excels. Indeed, given he has portrayed different comedic creations over the years, there is startling truth here.

Of course, portraying larger than life, and hilariously offensive characters, such as Borat, Ali G and Bruno marks Sacha Baron Cohen as a provocative comedic genius. His risk-taking-celebrity-baiting-devil’s-advocate-controversial television shows and films have been very successful commercially. Moreover, he has also won many awards in the process. While he was mooted to portray Freddie Mercury at one point, other than Les Miserables (2012) and perhaps Hugo (2011), Baron Cohen is obviously best known for his comedic work. However, the deft and nuanced performance presented here in The Spy (2019), I hope, leads to more dramatic roles for Baron Cohen. Because, he is absolutely outstanding in this split role.


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Following the beats of espionage and undercover police narratives, Gideon Raff, who created the original Israeli drama which would become big TV hit, Homeland, has delivered a gripping and stylish period drama. The 1960’s set era is evoked expertly from the washed-out hues of the scenes set in Israel, to the more colour-drenched sequences set in Syria. Recruited by Mossad, Cohen trains, adopts his new identity as Kamal, and is transplanted to Buenos Aires. There he uses Israel-backed wealth, chutzpah and business acumen to further cement his Syrian cover. Eventually moving to Syria raises the stakes for Cohen/Kamal and the danger levels increase as his contacts become more dangerous and powerful within the Syrian government.

Overall, The Spy (2019), buoyed by Baron Cohen magnetic performance, is highly recommended. Further, I was constantly on edge for Cohen/Kamal’s safety as he transmits messages to Israel via Morse code and photographs exported in furniture out of Syria. Conversely, the process of being a spy is brilliantly developed and presented. While it is based on a true story, I’m sure many liberties have been taken by the writers to condense the years of espionage work Cohen/Kamal achieved for Israel. Similarly, the political complexity of Syria and Israel’s conflict is arguably glossed over in favour of more generic thriller leanings. Having said that, the Syrians are not shown in a negative light, but rather with much believability and humanity. In fact, it’s Cohen’s actions who I questioned more. He seemed to take too many risks and his obsessive nature, while working well for the Israeli cause, ultimately costs him, his identity and his family dearly.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11



NETFLIX TV REVIEW: INTO THE NIGHT (2020)

NETFLIX TV REVIEW: INTO THE NIGHT (2020)

Directed by: Inti Calfat and Dirk Verheye

Written by Jason George – based on the novel The Old Axolotl by Jacek Dukaj

Cast: Pauline Ettienne, Laurent Capulletto, Stefano Cassetti, Nabil Mallat, Jan Bijvoet, Vincent Londez, Babetida Sadjo, Mehmet Kurtulus, Alba Gaia Bellugi, Regina Bikkinina, etc.

Distribution: Netflix


****MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ****



Netflix’s first Belgian original production series is an inspired adaptation of Jakub Dukaj’s electronic science fiction work, The Old Axolotl. While that work may be a digital release about a post-apocalyptic Earth, Into The Night (2020), is not a futuristic tale, but rather a very contemporary one set in the now. Opening in the Brussels airport the suspense is ratcheted up from the start when a NATO Officer, Terenzio Gallo, takes a Moscow bound plane hostage at gunpoint. Frantic and dangerous he orders the pilot and crew to take off immediately as they are all in danger. I won’t reveal what that danger is for fear of spoilers. What I can say is though these six episodes are one hell of a thrilling and panic-stricken plane journey.

Jason George’s excellent adaptation is written as a fast-paced disaster movie over six sharp episodes. Given the characters convene at an airport and the Brussels office of the United Nations is close by, the narrative establishes an ensemble of various nationalities including: Polish, Italian, Belgian, French, Turkish, Russian, Moroccan and in later episodes, English. Indeed, as well as the environmental threat and technological challenges the characters face, national identities and cultural clashes drive the drama of the series. The various personalities may be facing impending doom from an unknown source, while flying thousands of feet in the air, yet they cannot put their petty prejudices aside and this leads to much trouble. Amidst the in-fighting though some solidarity is found as the passengers and crew overcome a plethora of suspenseful moments and situations.

I personally cannot stand flying. Thus, my heart was literally in my mouth throughout this exciting series. The acting, action, direction and editing are all extremely well delivered, and I can safely say that this is one of Netflix’s winners. The threat the humans face is also very believable too. Furthermore, a classic disaster movie trope is to give the characters enough depth to bring you into their personal stories. Each episode is named after a character and is accompanied by a mini-flashback establishing their back story. We get one character seeking romance, one facing grief, another having an affair, a mother attempting to save her sick son, and so on. While these are very much standard types within the genre, the breathless pace of Into The Night (2020) leaves you dizzy from both the high altitude and anxiety.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


NETFLIX TV SERIES REVIEW – THE STRANGER (2020)

NETFLIX TV SERIES REVIEW – THE STRANGER (2020)

Created by Harlan Coben – based on The Stranger by Harlan Coben

Writers: Harlan Coben, Danny Brocklehurst, Charlotte Coben, Karla Crome, Mick Ford etc.

Directors: Daniel O’Hara, Hannah Quinn

Cast: Richard Armitage, Siobhan Finneran, Jennifer Saunders, Shaun Dooley, Paul Kaye, Dervla Kirwan, Kadiff Kirwan, Jacob Dudman, Ella-Rae Smith, Brandon Fellows, Anthony Head, Stephen Rea, Hannah John-Kamen etc.

No. of Episodes 8

Network release: Netflix

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***


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Imagine sitting in a bar or restaurant or at the gym or in a coffee shop minding your own business. A stranger approaches you and tells you something that your spouse or partner or relative was hiding from you. This is a secret which rips apart your life and turns everything upside down in the process. This is the basic premise of Harlan Coben’s adaptation of his own novel, The Stranger. Over eight gripping episodes the drama hooks you in from this point forth. Secrets, lies, violence, corruption, blackmail, betrayal and murder drive the narrative in a compelling and serpentine plot.

In what is the TV equivalent of a right page-turner, the main protagonist, Adam Price (Richard Armitage), is the first person to be approached by the titular Stranger. He is given information regarding his wife (Dervla Kirwan) and this threatens to tear his whole family apart. This is just the tip of the iceberg though in regards to the plotting. Other individuals are being targeted too by the Stranger. At the same time a teenager has been comatosed following a woodland rave. It’s not long before Siobhan Finneran’s DS Johanna Griffin investigates this crime, the bizarre beheading of a llama, plus murder, extortion and abduction.

At first, I thought it may be a metaphysical figure revealing guilty secrets to the cast of characters in a Stephen King supernatural-style narrative. However, Harlan Coben’s contemporary crime thriller is firmly set in reality, as it privileges familial and police procedural drama compellingly. Over the eight episodes I was glued to what happens next, as we get so many cat-and-mouse chases and character surprises throughout. Richard Armitage is excellent as the lead protagonist, desperately trying to keep his family together. The teenage character subplots are not so successful as the some of their acting is pretty dire. However, the likes of Siobhan Finneran, Jennifer Saunders, Paul Kaye and Stephen Rea add real quality to what is a conventional, but always watchable genre production.

Mark: 8 out of 11



NETFLIX REVIEW – CRIMINAL (2019) – UK/FR/GER/SPAIN

NETFLIX REVIEW – CRIMINAL (2019) – UK/FR/GER/SPAIN

Created by: George Kay and Jim Field Smith

Writers: George Kay, Alejandro Hernandez, Manuel Cuenca, Frederic Mermoud, Mathieu Missoffe, Antonin Martin-Hilbert, Bernd Lange, Sebastian Heeg.

Directors: Frederic Mermoud, Oliver Hirschbiegel, Mariano Barroso, Jim Field Smith

Cast (various): David Tennant, Hayley Atwell, Youssef Kerkour, Nicholas Pinnock, Mark Stanley, Katherine Kelly, Sara Giradeau, Nathalie Baye, Margot Bancilon, Stephane Jobert, Laurent Lucas, Peter Kurth, Deniz Arora, Nina Hoss, Sylvester Groth, Florence Kasumba, Carmen Macha, Inma Cuesta, Eduard Fernandez, Jose Angel Egido, Emma Suarez, Jorge Bosch etc.

Original Network: Netflix

******* MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS *******



I’m a massive fan of anthology shows and also television which adheres to a clear format. Of course, it can be argued to be generic and formulaic, however, there’s something very pleasing in watching a television drama with fixed location, rules and concepts in place. Netflix’s crime procedural drama, Criminal (2019) is one such programme. Each episode is based around the interrogation of a prime suspect, as the police attempt to extract the truth or confession relating to a serious crime.

The enclosed space and the battle of wills in each episode between the police and suspect finds the drama unfold in a similar way to a theatrical play. Thus, the script, characters, dialogue and performances need to be of a high quality. Using the same exquisitely geometrically designed set (shot in Madrid) Criminal has been produced in England, Spain, Germany and France, I watched all four, consisting of twelve episodes, and very entertaining it was too. Here are some quick reviews of each series with usual marks out of eleven.


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CRIMINAL: FRANCE (2019)

Arguably, along with the UK episodes, the most consistent of the four series. The three stories were expertly scripted and acted, tapping into relevant issues of the day relating to terror attacks (Emilie), homophobic violence (Jerome) and industrial murder (Caroline). Veteran actor Nathalie Baye excelled in the latter, while Sara Giradeau was very moving as Emilie, an individual accused of being a fake “victim” in a terrorist bombing. The issue of gender politics in the crimes and between the police hierarchy adds further depth to this excellent drama.

Mark: 9 out of 11


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CRIMINAL: GERMANY (2019)

Set in the same claustrophobic location but this time based in Germany, these episodes are directed by seasoned helmer, Oliver Hirschbiegel. While very thrilling, they had a cooler and more detached feel compared to the other countries. The lead detective Karl Schultz is portrayed by the exceptional actor Sylvester Groth. His obsessive cat-and-mouse interrogation of the accused (Nina Hoss) in the last episode, Claudia, was the highlight of the three compelling dramas. The other two episodes are well written and intriguing, with decent twists too.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


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CRIMINAL: SPAIN (2019)

Probably my least favourite of the quartet within the franchise, there was still a lot to like about the three episodes. While the segment entitled Carmen was both moving and suspenseful in its’ depiction of a family torn apart following the death of their autistic daughter, the other two stories lacked depth for me. Lastly, the officer leading the interrogations, Chief Inspector Toranzo Puig (Emma Suarez) was highly suspect in her adherence to procedure and while this added to the drama, it made her character cold and hard to like.

Mark: 7.5 out of 11


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CRIMINAL: UK (2019)

My favourite, along with the French series, the UK one starts with a fantastic episode, Edgar, owed mostly due to appearance of David Tennant. He is such a commanding presence on screen, you’re really drawn into the case of whether his Doctor (not that one) had killed his stepdaughter. The second episode, Stacey, features an almost unrecognisable Hayley Atwell. Looking thin, hair-dyed, and speaking with a strong South London accent, it found the classy actor really delving deep into her character. The final episode was very tense too as Youssef Kerkour’s truck driver, Jay, is accused of being involved in people trafficking for a dangerous gang. Ultimately, the series was very solid drama, well-acted and directed. I thought Mark Stanley stood out as the cop battling a hidden secret.

Mark: 9 out of 11