Breaking Bad finished and I saw it finish, but last week I also saw Steve McQueen’s first two movies Hunger and Shame, so after sipping that brilliance I’m not at all feeling the whole “golden age of television” idea everyone bandies about. Even if this is a golden age, television is still a mostly developmentally stunted medium that at its very best isn’t aiming for much outside of the allure of the question “what’s the white sociopath gonna do next?”
Oh yeah, and AMC has to drop the audio every time someone says fuck because audiences can’t handle that shit. They want an antiseptic story about a suburban drug dealer superhero that doesn’t dramatize or challenge reality in any convincing way. And they don’t want to hear filthy language.
That brings me to Ray Donovan, the latest hard-edged drama about a middle aged white guy with sociopathic tendencies going through the motions with his marriage, his family, his job. I haven’t found a single one of these that’s worked since The Sopranos. Ray Donovan has great performances, authentic characters with realistic relationships, yet it fails to feel like it’s going anywhere, the kind of drama that might as well stop pretending it has a million different plot points because in every episode Donovan will gruffly go through life and surmount obstacles with violence and sexy times, more or less unchanged as he grimly marches forward until the show’s cancellation.
People need to start writing these kind of shows with a focus on accomplishing interesting things in each individual episode, and less time on groupthink-addled story arcs. How the hell does a drama starring Jon Voight and Liev Shriber get monotonous? I’m blaming contemporary writers room culture.
But let’s not despair, 2013 saw the debut of two of the best crime films I’ve seen in recent memory, and I watch a fair amount of those.
Johnnie To’s Drug War and Park Hoon-jung’s New World compliment each other rather well, despite being entirely different movies from different countries: Johnnie To’s supremely matter-of-fact directing style and the subdued performances it encourages contrasts sharply with the charismatic melodramatics New World demands from its actors.
Drug War is so dry you might think you were tricked into watching some television procedural, if it wasn’t for that tripwire mine of intensity ready to explode at any moment, buried underneath it all. And when the music swoons in time with an actor’s contorted face of dismay in New World, there’s no question you’re watching a different kind of flick, one that’s propping up emotions, using empathy and charisma to sell you on the unfolding action.
I have yet to see a 2013 American crime film that succeeds on anything close to the same level as these two. The closest might be Officer Down, you know, the movie starring Stephen Dorff, and it doesn’t come close at all. Merely typing the words “Stephen Dorff” brings to mind feelings of misused potential and lost opportunity, feelings which apply equally well to Officer Down itself.