Tag Archives: Crime drama

Logan Lucky (2017): A Critique and Celebration of the Southern Culture Through an Amazing Heist

   “Logan Lucky” is a great film. This is a film that will probably make my Top 5 at the end of the year and gives us some amazing performances, as well as having a great larger point as it critique and celebrates southern working class culture through the lense of West Virginia and a NASCAR Heist. The only real downside to this film that I  can think of is the lead up to the heist has a few scenes that drag and I felt the Robin Hood message should have been so much bigger than the two families who are a part of it. Given how much this film critiques Southern Culture (even as it is celebrating it) it doesn’t really address the elephant in the room. The elephant I’ll address further down in the review.

The film was directed Steven Soderbergh and written by Rebecca Blunt and produced by Channing Tatum, Gregory Jacobs, Mark Johnson and Reid Carolin.

The story involves Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) planning a heist after he is laid off from his construction job due to a limp he received during his football days. This leads him to teaming up with his Iraqi War vet brother Clyde (Adam Driver) and and explosives expert Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) as he plans to steal from the NASCAR speedway so he can still have a future with his young daughter, who is moving away.

The Pros: Rules of the Heist – The planning of the heist is meticulous, as we see that Jimmy has the 10 rules of robbing a bank (which 3 times has be sure your on board, expect the unexpected). This is wonderful as we see the chaotic elements come in (bringing in more people on the job) and how they deal with it in different ways. I also bring this up because the action of the heist and payoff are tied to these rules and each outcome or part of the plan brings in new elements that raise the tension. Also Joe Bang is key to it all and Daniel Craig is amazing as this threatening, yet charming crook.

The Working Class Struggle – One of the major themes of the film is the working class struggle. Clyde is an injured Iraqi war vet who runs a bar and gets harassed by patrons because of his injury, Jimmy loses his job because of an injury during the time he was a football player (when it had never been an issue before), their sister Mellie is always being harassed by Jimmy’s ex-wife’s husband and the Bangs live on the outskirts of society. They are smart but are nearly invisible to those around them.

Big Business and Corruption – We see a lot of examples of big business and corruption in the South. From Jimmy’s boss letting him go for cost cutting reasons, from the NASCAR owner who harasses Clyde for having one arm and how the FBI isn’t able to do their investigation all that well because the race course wants to hide the fact they don’t know how much money is going out of the track, showing that all the unchecked money has them probably making far more than their ledgers show (part of what the heist is working around). We also see it in the prison and how the Warden uses his guards to abuse the prisoners and his focus on making everything seem fine to the outside, even as an emergency could be occurring.

The Cons: The Unaddressed Racism and Payoff – This film takes place in West Virginia and so much of the class difference is tied to race, this is true everywhere in the United States but especially in the South were laws were passed to keep African-Americans from opportunity. Jim Crow wasn’t that long ago and it can still be felt today. Hell we had Nazis and Confederate flags in Charlottesville not to long ago. The KKK and Neo-Nazis and those who may sympathize with their ideology due to privilege or class have always been around and been the ones keeping what Jim Crow did in place even after. Racism doesn’t just go away when a new law is passed. Given the Robin Hood nature of the film and that it is correcting wrongs through the heist this could have been handled better minus the only African-American character being unnamed and getting no character development beyond helping cause a riot in the prison to help with the heist.

This is a film that has great character development and payoff. I’m not going to spoil anything, because you should really see this film. A lot of characters who are horrible and corrupt find themselves with less, while our strapping heroes have payoff in their character arcs and what they want in their lives and also among one another. There is comradely that we did not see at the beginning of the film. This is a film where our heroes start out as isolated players and by the end are cohesive team that the antagonists always underestimate because of their working class backgrounds. Seriously, I can’t recommend this film enough given that my only critique is that working class should have meant more than white (especially in the South) and that even though we get a good bit of class justice, outside of a single scene with a character from the prison, there is no racial justice to be found in a setting that once had slavery and Jim Crow.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10. So close to being the perfect film. Still one of my favorite films of the year though.

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Message from the King (2017): Netflix Makes a Revenge Flick

     “Message from the King” is a film that had a lot of potential and could have been great, but doesn’t quite get there. Revenge thrillers are hard to do, I enjoy them but in the last few years the only ones that really stand out to me are the “John Wick” films and this film isn’t that. Chadwick Boseman is fantastic, he really is the only one holding this film up, which is sad because there is so much potential as he is a South African in Los Angeles and all the differences in culture or history and similarities were just dropped. So before I get into spoilers, I recommend it if you like revenge films but there is not much else to keep you here. It isn’t bad but it isn’t good.

The film was directed by Fabrice Du Welz and written by Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell who produced it along with David Lancaster and Simon Cornwell.

The story involves Jacob King (Chadwick Boseman) traveling from South Africa to Los Angeles to find his sister. When he finds out what happened to her his revenge quest begins as he hunts down those responsible for what happened.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: Chadwick Boseman – Boseman is the best part of this film. He plays a character who feels like a failure of a brother because he couldn’t take care of his siblings. There is also more going on with him too. After his sister’s torture and murder by the gang in Los Angeles he completes his revenge spree against the gang and we learn he is a cop in South Africa who hides his killing spree from his partners. This added more layers to the character and he was the only character whose motivation I really felt I knew, and that was entirely due to Boseman’s acting.

The Action – The action is solid and you feel a lot of the punches. It is honestly a shame there wasn’t more action as that would have strengthened the film overall. The action scenes stand out because they are at each major point in the story as his revenge spree completes.

The Cons: Many Great Actors No Characters – Luke Evans, Tom Felton and Alfred Molina are all in this playing different types of creeps involved with drugs, gangs and porn. Sadly I could not describe their characters to you as they are so poorly written. This was a missed opportunity as all 3 of these folks can act, I just didn’t see any character there, just plot devices to be destroyed by the protagonist.

I wish I had more to say about this film. There are a lot of decent actors in this (like Tom Felton and Luke Evans) but besides Boseman I’d have a hard time describing them or their motivations. This was a missed opportunity as any good revenge flick should have great villains that are more than evil for being evil or if they are, are at least fun in how awful they are. This film had none of that and would be a made for television movie if it hadn’t come out on Netflix. Again, if you like revenge flicks you’ll get some enjoyment, but beyond that I can’t recommend this film.

6 / 10 Solid action and Boseman keep it from being a complete failure.

“Ozark” Season 1 – An Amazing Story of Those Bound by Secrets and Damage

   “Ozark” is a great show. This is the type of show that takes aspects of “Breaking Bad” as far as the themes of crime, redemption and corruption mixed with the threat of the FBI and the Cartel and centers it around one family, who drives the action and shapes the drama of wherever they are. This is a show I’d seriously recommend and is once again proof that “Netflix” knows how to choose the right shows to make.

The series was created by Bill Dubuque and produced by Media Rights Capital.

The story centers around Martin Byrde (Jason Bateman), a financial planner who ends in deep with the Cartel and must pay off his debt after his company’s money laundering scheme goes wrong. To save himself and wash the Cartel’s money he moves his family the Ozarks, but all is not as it appears to be as he upsets the balance of power that already exists as he races against time against both the FBI investigation and the Cartel.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Price of Secrets –  A major theme of this show is the price of secrets. Whether it is his wife’s affair and him holding back how long he knew about it, whether it is the truth behind the money he is investing in the Ozarks in order to have it washed and the people affected by this, or the FBI agent and his lover who by keeping in the dark leads to the destruction of his lover’s family and a failure of the initial investigation.

The Art of Mutually Assured Destruction – M.A.D. is a major theme of this show as so much of it is Martin keeping different powers happy, as they know he could end them just as he knows they could end him. We see this in the threat heroin dealers who run crime area called the Snells and them working things out with the Cartel, and also the Langmores, whose father pulls the strings from prison and wants Martin’s money. The reason Wendy and Martin don’t split up after everything is they are both in on it too. They are both guilty so neither will turn on the other as both more than anything want to protect the kids. This threat that the different powers face, especially the Byrds is a huge part of what creates the drama that drives the story and Martin and Wendy’s creation of scenarios where there is some level of M.A.D. against those would harm them.

The Small Push to Corruption – A major theme in the story is the small push to corruption as Martin resists his company working with Del (the leader of the Cartel in the area) until he eventually decides he wants nice things as does his wife. They know Del is dangerous but for both of them the payoff of more wins out as we see them embrace the corruption that leads up to the action that kicks off the show.

The Victory of Small Acts of Good – Even with how dark the show is, there are still small acts of good. Ruth Langmore tries to kill Martin at first under orders from her dad but ends up growing attached to the Byrdes and saves them. We also see how the small acts of the family risking for one another bring them closer together. Even though things look bad at the end as the Snells kill Del and the Cartel now has them on their blacklist, their is finally love and with Ruth almost as an adopted family member now, they’ve grown and aren’t as alone and isolated as before.

Okay: Del’s Ending – Del is played by Esai Morales, who played Joseph Adama in “Caprica.” He is an amazing actor and even though his death advances the threat of the Cartel and turns the Ozarks into a warzone, I still really liked his character and wanted him around, at least for another season as he was both likable and threatening, and it is hard to get that in shows like this…as even “Breaking Bad” only ever achieved it with Mike and Gus. Keeping him alive, even as a prisoner, would have made this issue a pro.

The FBI – I liked the FBI agents and the fact that they were lovers, but I never felt like they had anything on the people around them. They wanted Ruth and Martin so they could take out Del but in the end they gain nothing since the Snells kill Del and Ruth never admits to trying to kill Martin and in the end the Byrde’s cover for her too. I wish they could have been more of a threat as the DEA in “Breaking Bad” feels like just as big of force as the Cartel in that show. I still thought the FBI was used okay, but as of this season, they weren’t a pro.

This was another great Netflix series that I’d highly recommend. If you enjoyed “Breaking Bad” chances are you will enjoy this too as it is cut from the same cloth and tackles a lot of similar things as far as what darkness humans are capable of, as well as what it takes to get someone to the point of corruption, or to turn away from it. For me the main issues were the FBI arc felt incomplete (Glad they have more seasons) and Del’s ending was okay for keeping things in the Ozarks, but it should not have ended in his death. That actor is amazing and the constant threat his character brought, mixed with his reasonableness made him compelling. Lets see where the story goes from here as Del’s boss is still out there as is Ruth’s father, both of who will play a part as future threats for our protagonists.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

Baby Driver (2017): The Unforgettable Soundtrack of a Life

  Edgar Wright is one of my favorite directors at this point. He has created some of my favorite films…from the “Cornetta Trilogy” to “Scott Pilgrim.” Now “Baby Driver” joins those films as one that takes a unique take on a genre (in this case crime thrillers) and adds a whole new presentation of action while giving a powerful message and some of the best written gangsters in cinema. Seriously, I can’t recommend this film enough and as of this point in time, it is my favorite film of the year.

“Baby Driver” was written and directed by Edgar Wright while being produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Nira Park.

The story involves Baby (Ansel Elgort) who is a driver who can only function listening music, who works for Doc’s (Kevin Spacey) crime syndicate. He does one last job to get out of debt and ends up falling in love with Deborah (Lily James) a waitress at a local diner. Things soon go south when after the job all as not as it appears to be and Baby is in over his head.

The Pros: The Art of Soundtrack Intertwined Action – This is a film that is a masterful work of art and so much of that is in the sound editing and use of songs with action. The film kicks off with a heist where there is silence before the pin drop and build up of a song as the getaway occurs. This is just the first example of how the two are interwoven to show rather than tell action. You have scenes with characters with no dialogue is needed and the song and how it is edited with the action tells you all you need to know. Both “Guardians of the Galaxy” did this to some degree (Baby is even a bit like Star-lord with his family issues) but what differs is that here it is down to the details and we are given continuous shots to use a song to it’s fullest degree or whatever sound best serves to show us the action.

Flawed and Compelling, the Art of Character – The characters in this film are compelling and interesting. They are all bad to varying degrees (the exceptions being Deborah and Baby’s foster father) but even the baddies are complex. Each of the characters carry their scars and wounds and we see why some like Bats are so batty and distrust all, because of what they’d had to do, or are driven by a hedonistic love of life and one another (Darling and Buddy) or characters who are driven by a level of trust but also some longing for family connection (Doc) and in all cases this leads them to do bad and good things. These are characters who I wanted to learn more about and who revealed the different aspects of themselves over the course of a film. Even my favorite crime movies like first two “Godfathers,” “Goodfellas,” “Gangs of New York” and “Wolf of Wall Street” all didn’t quite pull off the ensemble exploration. This film does and it is part of what makes it the prefect film of it’s kind.

Letting Go and Redemption – A major theme of the film is letting go and and in turn finding redemption. We see obsession consume certain characters in the final act leading to their destruction, while others have to die to themselves and their dreams in order to care for another and in doing so find peace. I’m being purposely vague because I don’t want to spoil this movie. You really should see it.

Subverting Genre Tropes – Deborah is not a damsel in distress. She is as much an active participant in this crime thriller as Darling, Doc, Bats and Buddy. It is her choices and activeness that keep her from becoming the damsel that love interests so often become in these types of films. The ending also subverts the common tragedy trope that often happens in these types of films. I won’t say how it ends but I’ve never seen a crime thriller end this way.

You should go see this film. If you like great films and want a film that will keep you on the edge of your seat because the action has purpose, the soundtrack is amazing, the characters are compelling and the message is meaningful, than this is the film for you. This is the perfect film in it’s genre and I hope Edgar Wright wins awards for this masterpiece.  To any aspiring directors, take note of Wright’s work, he owns this craft as both a writer and director.

Final Score: 10 / 10. The first perfect film this year.

Shimmer Lake (2017): A Mystery Told in Reverse

I have yet to see a truly great film that is a Netflix original. Almost always the films go from bad to decent, though this is the first one I’ve seen since “Beats of no Nation” that was truly good. “Shimmer Lake” is very Coenesque in execution but doesn’t quite rise to the farcical comedies that pervades most of the Coen works. It is this lack of humor that really brings it down and keeps it from becoming great, though it is still worth checking out.

The film was directed by Oren Uziel who also wrote the film, while being produced by Adam Saunders and Britton Rizzio.

The story a small town sheriff named Walker who is investigating a bank robbery that involves his brother and two ex-friends. The story is told in reverse.

The Pros: The Premise – The idea of a small town bank robbery that turns into something bigger (being told from when the crime is done and the outcome to how it came about) is really cool. The setup was a large part of what kept me watching because I was waiting to learn more the different characters and their relationships. Rainn Wilson has so much charisma and I think having him be one of the first characters we meet who is so connected to the incident really strengthened the film.

The Cons: The Point of the Characters – This is a story full of betrayal and reveals, and at times does have comedy and even real drama between characters before many of them go full evil. It is this full range of character actions and types that fail to be a theme that are the largest con of the film. This film needed a focus for the mystery to truly be more than simply good.

I wish there was more to say about this film, but this is a film that doesn’t really have a larger point. It is a thriller and mystery where the catch is how the story is told (mystery in reverse) versus the point and themes of the story. I’m avoiding spoilers since the reveal is one of the few reasons to see this film but I also found that because it lacked a larger farcical bent or any major theme that was consistent across the board makes it a story that I will recommend but do not consider great. This film strives to be a Coen film when it should have sought more of it’s own voice.

Final Score: 8 / 10 A solid mystery.

“The Blacklist” Season 1 Retrospect – A High Stakes Crime Drama With Consequences and Loss

The-Blacklist

     “The Blacklist” is a show that quite a few friends have recommended to me, and after finishing Season 1 I find that recommendation well worth it. I’m curious to see where future stories go, I felt for the characters we lost…and we got many compelling one-off villains as well as some good overarching game players too.

     Jon Bokencamp created the show in 2013 and he clearly has an idea where things are going as we get a good arc throughout Season 1 and even all the villains of the week are connected in such a way that we get an overall narrative arc which is a difficult thing to pull off in a 22 episode structure. It is for this reason that after I finish this series when it has finally ended I’ll look at doing individual episode reviews.

    The story involved Raymond “Red” Reddington (James Spader) turning himself into the FBI in order to bring down a mysterious organization that is at war with him. He does this through the rookie FBI agent Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone) who he is connected to in some way as he provides her and the Special Task Force with a list of names of the Blacklist.

This review does contain spoilers.

The Pros: The Villains – This is a show with a lot of complicated villains, which is why I’m giving them their own section. These were the villains who stood out the most on the Blacklist who weren’t game changers or players in a larger game.

The Courier – This is a guy who doesn’t feel pain and is introduced wearing a mask. He is the one criminals use since they don’t trust each other as if either goes back on the deal he will kill them both. He is also still human too as he ends up opening up about who hired him and who he works for in order to lessen his brother’s sentence in prison. He also grew up in a family of abuse.

General Ludd – Ludd is an organization that is trying to bring down Capitalism and has a very V for Vendetta feel to them. They succeed in their attacks and it is only at the very end that their leader is finally caught and killed.

Anslo Garrick – Garrick was betrayed by Red and gets revenge by killing Zheng and nearly killing Zuma. He’s ruthless and is only a tool of the larger players but he is a good Dragon as he and the Wild Boys easily take out the Task Force.

The Good Samaritan – This is a killer who targets abusers and kills them the way they abused their spouse or child. He was a complex villain who was at the end of the day a vigilante and his way of dealing with abuse showed how he had become the abuser.

The Judge – The Judge like the Good Samaritan targets corrupt officials who put away innocent people. She is a fascinating character as she does have some semblance of justice and is celebrated by the criminals when she is brought in as she was one of their only advocates. She’s a character I’d like to see again.

Support – The support I’m speaking of is that they are Red’s bodyguards with Zheng in charge of finances while Dembe is the contact and deliver of information. They are both fascinating characters who I wish we had more time with this season.

Luli Zheng – Deborah Craig is awesome as Zheng who is one of Red’s bodyguards and in charge of his finances. We get a lot of small moments with her as she helps Red destroy his past and plan for the future. Sadly Garrick is the one who kills her in the end.

Dembe Zuma – Dembe manages to escape Garrick and is Red’s shadow following leads to unravel Berlin’s organization and bring him out into the light. He is tough and it is great whenever he’s around. Tawfiq does a wonderful job in the role.

The Special Task Force – The Special Task Force involves both the CIA, FBI and Reddington in order to bring down the names on the Blacklist. All the characters are interesting, even the ones who are weak (the closer they are to a main character basically a la Ressler and Keen).

Agent Aram Mojtabai – Aram is the hacker and tech. and is the one who helps them find the members on the Blacklist. He also has a close relationship with Elizabeth and works with her one on one often times behind the Task Force’s back. Amir Arison gives great sensitivity to the role as we see him have to use his training for the first time during Garrick’s assault when he kills his first person. We also see him stand up to Reddington when he is framed and work to catch the real mole in the agency.

Harold Cooper – Cooper leads the Task Force and has to walk a fine line in all he does as the Task Force could be destroyed at any point by the government or all the different forces that want it destroyed. He keeps others at arms length while advocating for the existence of the organization. When the season ends he is in critical condition from Berlin’s attack. Harry Lennix is fantastic!

Agent Donald Ressler – Ressler is one of the weaker agents as he is all about revenge and lives only for the job. He is a stock character but he is still compelling in his own way even though he is the least interesting member on the Task Force. He is saved by Reddington at one point and was the man sent to hunt him down back when the search for Reddington began before Red turned himself in.

Agent Meera Malik  – Parminder Nagra is my favorite member of the Task Force and the CIA representative. She is sadly killed in the finale but before that we see her help take down or take down many members of the blacklist as well as learning about her balancing her role as a mother and how her clear conscience is why Reddington trusts her. She also has a darker side too being CIA she’s tortured and we see her do so on the show.

Elizabeth Keen – Keen is our protagonist who is being used by Berlin’s organization via her fake husband Tom and by Reddington trying to bring Berlin out and protect her and of course the FBI who is her boss. Her arc is finding balance and eventually committing again to the fight and her relationship with Red after she forgives him for putting her adopted father out of his misery. She isn’t bad and is good, but she was never as interesting as Red or Malik to me.

The Manipulators – These are the game changers and manipulators whose names we receive and who we see easily walk over the Task Force at different points this season. Some are connected I think but more on that next season I think.

Diane Fowler – Fowler was the mole and Red ends up killing her even though she knows things about the past that he seeks. She is a smooth operator and the Task Force trusts her even up until the end since she covered her tracks so well.

Alan Fitch – Alan Alda is awesome as Fitch! He is the one who sets the Wild Boys and Garrick on Reddington to make a point that you don’t double cross him and the organization he is a part of. He also has an Alliance with Reddington still though and advocated his organization helping when it looks like Berlin will be on the scenes. Sadly he isn’t able to which means when Berlin comes for him and his organization he won’t have Red’s help.

“Berlin” – Berlin is the one who was using everyone on the Blacklist to his own ends. It is when they are killed that he finally comes out of hiding and reeks havoc on the city and Task Force. He is free at the end having cut off his own hand to escape and letting another be his stand in as he goes underground to plot his revenge against Red. How he knows Red is still a mystery as Red does not know him as far as we know.

Raymond “Red” Reddington – James Spader does an amazing job as Red and is the Moriarty character driving the plot as he prepares for war against Berlin and whomever Berlin maybe working for. In this we see he is a sociopath but also cares deeply about some people, whether they are Dembe, Zheng or Elizabeth and that he will go to any length to avenge those who have wronged him or the people he cares about. He is still a criminal but he is complicated as his hiding information is usually for a reason and he ends up being right about most things. I’m curious to see how he uses the tools at his disposal in the war against Berlin. He is most likely Elizabeth’s dad.

The Reveals – There are quite a few reveals. From Tom being a fake and working for Berlin to Red most likely being Elizabeth’s father as we see burn marks on his back and the one memory Elizabeth has of her father is him pulling her out of the fire. The fact that her adopted father was a criminal connected to Berlin is also another reveal.

The Cons: Fridging  – Both Zheng, Malik and Ressler’s ex were all killed over the course of the show. This very blatant fridging, especially of some of the more compelling characters is a con I can’t ignore, especially since the kills in many cases came out of nowhere from villains of the week. For characters of such importance, they deserved more than that if they had to be killed off.

   I can’t wait to keep on watching and I do plan on reviewing individual episodes in the future. Tom wasn’t on here as he was kind a plot device in my opinion and never felt like a full character. Everyone else on the other hand had great motivations for the things they did which made them compelling to watch as the world of the “The Blacklist” is a grey world where friends can be enemies and vise versa and you never know who is pulling the strings in the end or who will live and die.

Final Score: 9 / 10. Solidly great.

“Better Call Saul” Season 1 Assessment – A Matter of Self Respect, Family and Life’s Shades of Grey

better-call-saul

      “Better Call Saul” kicks off the show strong and shows once again that Vince Gillian and  Peter Gould know what they’re doing. This was a show that I was a little worried about going in, especially when there was early talk about it being a comedy. Gillian can do comedy well but he is so much better at drama and tackling the shades of grey or moral decisions and choices. This is a huge part of why “Breaking Bad” is one of my favorite shows, besides how well the character arcs are handled and the beautiful writing and cinematography…all of which “Better Call Saul” has, though it is much more focused in it’s narrative than “Breaking Bad” was.

      Before I go into more detail, this review does contain SPOILERS for both “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul,” since for me they shows inform each other, and not just because “Better Call Saul” is a prequel spin-off. There are some of the same characters and we get their backstories and also very similar themes too, though they are handled differently than the Fall of Walter White as Jim McGill (Saul before he was Saul Goodman) is a very different person. Also, as a side note I will eventually be reviewing “Breaking Bad” in full here on the blog.

    The story is that of James “Jimmy” McGill (played by Bob Odenkirk) and begins after “Breaking Bad” where he now works at a Cinnebun and has a whole new persona and identity. He is sad and you see him watching his old “Saul Goodman” commercials before we get a flashback to before to 6 years before “Breaking Bad” began. It is here Jimmy is a small town lawyer and ex-con artist who is trying to make his way in the world while dealing with the shame of his brother Chuck (Michael McKean)who is paranoid and successful, his brother’s firm “Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill” where his friend Kim works and where he wants to be a part of, as he worked in the Mail Room when he left the scam artist track and now cares about law. From here things unfold as secrets are revealed and Jimmy must choose what type of lawyer and man he wants to be.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is once again beautiful. The wasteland of the desert and isolation of the characters (especially Jimmy) is presented really well. I’d expect nothing less from the creators of “Breaking Bad” though. “Breaking Bad” always looked great and cinematography was used to present the themes of falling and brokenness really well, which “Better Call Saul” does in it’s own way too. Whether it’s Chuck’s fear when he goes outside and making the camera be from his point of view where everything is loud and bright or everything is in darkness, which is how Season 1 was filmed.

The Soundtrack – The country western theme is worked into it really well but there are also some great instrumentals too. The use of “Smoke on the Water” at the end of the series was great as well to show the choice that Jimmy makes. Dave Porter did a fantastic job.

The Writing – The dialogue is witty (again Gillian so wouldn’t expect any less) and there are great back and forths with anyone who Jimmy interacts with. Be it the nail salon owner, Kim, Chuck or his Old Testament like speeches to the law firm “Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill.” The script is also subtle too. When Churck admits that he’s ashamed of Jimmy and thinks he’ll always be a con, Jimmy silently leaves. It’s a powerful scene and the most you see is that he’s about to cry, but never fully does. It’s beautifully done and we see quite a few scenes like this where no dialogue needed because it was written and directed so well.

The Characters – The characters are all 3-Dimensional, with the exception of the gangsters who we haven’t really got to know. But the people at the law firm, the friends of Jimmy…none of them are simple. There are conflicts in the choices they make and it defines them in really interesting ways.

Mike Ehrmantraut – Mike is back from “Breaking Bad” and we get his backstory in this. In this we see that he’s a cop killer who killed the cops who were going to kill him and who had killed his son because after he’d convince his son to be corrupt his son had questioned, and that was enough for the cops to end hi. This leads to an investigation and he tells his Daughter-in-Law about what happens, as well as getting help from Jimmy against the Philadelphia detectives. In the end we see more of his road to Gus as he takes jobs as a bodyguard for people trying to stay under the radar and uses the money he has to care for his Grandkids. He’s a great character and has the defining quote of the series:

“I’ve known good criminals and bad cops, bad priests, honorable thieves. You can be on one side of the law or the other, but if you make a deal with somebody, you keep your word. You can go home today with your money and never do this again, but you took something that wasn’t yours and you sold it for a profit. You are now a criminal. Good one, bad one, that’s up to you.”

   Jonathan Banks continues to bring such depth to this complicated character.

Kim Wexler – Jimmy’s friend in the law firm and the person who he helps and who helps him a lot as he is getting on his feet as a lawyer. They’ve known each other a long time and she’s always celebrated his successes. Her choice is that between ambition (the partner track on the firm) and working directly with people the way Jimmy does. She chooses the partner track, at least for now and she wants to work with Jimmy as equals and has since he passed the bar. Rhea Seehorn is great in this role. She is Jimmy’s moral compass a lot of the time.

Chuck McGill – Jimmy’s paranoid brother who is a “Do it yourself” conservative type who looks down on those he sees as lazy, while not fully accepting that he is living on handouts from Jimmy and the company because of his paranoia of light and electricity. His character is tragic in this way as we see him working directly with Jimmy on a few cases, but we soon learn it was all for his own end as after he got Jimmy out of jail he never saw Jimmy as anything other than a crook. He’s a powerful character and much of what Jimmy does is a reaction to him or his firm. His character’s change is getting used to light again, or trying too, before retreating back indoors right around the time that he admits he is ashamed that Jimmy is a lawyer and doesn’t believe is a real lawyer at all. Michael McKean does a wonderful job in the role.

Jimmy McGill – Bob Odenkirk owns this role. Jimmy is complicated. He starts out as the man who loves the joy of the con and wants easy and fast money but soon finds himself becoming a hard worker as he’s trying to make his own success and join his brother’s law firm on his own terms. He makes a lot of tough choices but is shown to have a good moral core as returns the stolen money that he was bribed with by clients and he saves the life of two other cons from Tuco at one point too. He has an awareness of others which makes a good lawyer and con artist. So much of his motivation initially is to do the right thing, impress his brother and become a lawyer in his brother’s firm. It is after he realizes it was never option and his con friend dies during their lost con together that he decides he will make his own path and get money whenever it’s offered after he rejected the chance for wealth tied to firm connected to his brother’s firm. His character is conflict over every decision he makes as he knows easy ways and how to connect with people but continues to be screwed by those closest to him making him resent the ones who have shaped him into the good person he was. What type of crook he will be remains to be seen but Mike’s quote applies to Jimmy big time.

Themes – Isolation (the McGills), betrayal (Jimmy on a few occasions as a con and when he does the right thing with the money, as well as Mike’s backstory), darkness and and light (extremes) and ambition (the McGills and Kim). Were the major ones I noticed.

The Message – The message is in Mike’s quote. You can be a good person whether you are a criminal or with the law, the important thing is will you choose to be? In the end Jimmy is shown to have a greater moral character than Chuck who could not forgive and looked down upon the person who was doing the most for him. This leads to Chuck being further isolated, just like when Jimmy lashes out he gets isolated from his friends too. There is also the warning that easy paths have greater trials later. The issue surrounding the stolen money leads to an episode arc where they have to steal the money from the family to force them to take the deal with Kim’s firm which will save more of them rather than them (The Family and Jimmy) going to jail. This happens a few other times too. The fast money of the underworld can lead to great rewards but very large falls which I think is something Jimmy may have forgotten at the end because he is reacting so strongly to his brother’s betrayal. These themes of goodness not defined by role and the danger of the fast track were the major messages of Season 1.

Okay: Nacho Varga – A criminal who works with Tuco but is trying to go his own way. We see this when he saves Jimmy’s life and wants the money from the family Jimmy was trying to con and we later see him keep his deal when the client Mike is protecting delivers him the pills. He’s smart but I haven’t seen kindness. Tuco cares for his family but what does Nacho care about? This is why he isn’t a pro.

Hamlin – Hamlin is presented as a tool and as the character we are supposed to hate as he is the will of Chuck we learn. He always like Jimmy but because of Chuck could never express it or show it as Chuck didn’t want his brother to be a lawyer. He’s very distant from everyone until he opens up about how much he respects Jimmy. I’m still putting him as okay because I would have liked to see more of that and I don’t know his motivations or why he likes Jimmy.

  If you liked “Breaking Bad” you will probably love “Better Call Saul.” Season 1 was much more solid than early “Breaking Bad” and was defined by drama that didn’t often involve life and death situations. This gave time for the show to be introspective in ways “Breaking Bad” early on wasn’t able to be. This is one thing I love about this show and if it can sustain this and Gillian and Gould know where they are taking the show, this could possibly surpass “Breaking Bad” in story and quality. It is still the beginning though, which means the arc could go in any direction. We are afterall, still 6 years before the events of that show, which gives us a lot of ground to cover.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10.