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Tuesday, December 19, 2017
When watching movies or series there are a few out there that take the lazy route with a killer who is the most obvious choice for prime suspect. When that happens you feel like why bother when you know the results already. Or if the killer is revealed at the outset you wonder how any police organization could be so stupid as to not know who the killer was.
THE FALL is just the opposite of that. In a somewhat COLUMBO mode we know right off who the serial killer is. As the series progresses we witness both his acts and those of the police led by Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson). But the show offers more depth than just a whodunit and how do we prove it.
A killer is on the streets of Belfast murdering women. All are a certain type, young and attractive, brown hair, living alone and professionally employed. From the start it gains the interests of the police and DS Gibson is brought in from the MET in London at the request of the department head Jim Burns (John Lynch). The two have worked together in the past as well as having had a personal relationship of sorts at one time.
Heading the task force responsible for bringing in the killer Gibson sets about organizing the group she needs to bring the killer in. As she meets various officers when she arrives she uses an ability to scan for new talent to fill out the roster and compose her team. What becomes apparent as the show progresses is that she also fills out the team with potential bedmates, something that will haunt her as the show moves forward.
Gibson has a habit of finding sexual partners among those she works with. Never a situation where she expects anything long lasting, these are one night stands and nothing more. But they do tend to create a problematic atmosphere in the workplace.
There is also the issue of inner police politics to be dealt with in the series. This sets it apart from most where the stalwart force stands together through thick and thin to catch the killer. Here we have a group that’s as concerned about how things will play out in the press as they are in catching the killer. Should Gibson succeed they will take the credit, should she fail she will take the fall. And on the journey to catch the killer they will be the same people who place roadblocks in her way rather than come to her aid.
As all of this is revealed we also have the story of Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan). A grief counselor it is Paul who is the killer. We watch as he plans his next victim, stalking her and knowing her every move before sneaking into her house to kill her. He takes the time to insure that no trace evidence is left behind and that he spends time with the victim once she’s been killed. This is not an impersonal killer but a man whose fetishes have taken hold of him to the point that he devalues the life of the victim but not the body.
The series played out over three seasons, the third of which has just been released on DVD as well as this complete series set. Over those three season we have a breakdown where each one focuses on something different. The first establishes both sides of the coin. The second focuses on Paul’s changes as he kidnaps and holds captive one victim. The third deals with his capture and potential catastrophic case of amnesia. No time is wasted in each season and you never feel the need to hold the remote in your hand waiting to fast forward through the boring parts. They’re not here.
Anderson does a wonderful job as Gibson, a career woman with no time for personal intimacy on a long term scale, just as a woman with needs who fulfills them when time permits and moves back to work. It is her cold and calculating demeanor that helps her to establish links with those she pursues. Eventually that behavior will allow her to get into the mind of the Spector and that’s not always something easily left behind. Whether she will remain in that state of mind or break down and realize that she is still human isn’t revealed until the final season.
Dornan, most known as Mr. Grey in the FIFTY SHADES OF GREY series of films now, does an admirable job as well. The role of the killer here as portrayed by him is one of a man filled with charisma who lures women into trusting him before he takes them out. His character is a family man with two children who adore him and a wife who loves him dearly. His clients feel comfortable with him as he guides them through their grief. And yet at his core he’s a twisted man and serial killer. To portray both sides of the same coin is a task that Dornan does well.
There are other side stories that are important as well including a teen babysitter for the Spector family who longs for Paul to the point of obsession. He later employs that obsession to use her in providing an alibi. Even though she realizes he’s a killer the rebellious teen in her feels he has emotions for her and will do her no harm while she gets a slight thrill from helping him. As played by Aisling Franciosi the character is believable and eventually you just want to tell her to wake up.
On the whole the series entertains from start to finish. The characters are fleshed out rather than cardboard cutouts. People have their personal issues to deal with from the smallest to the greatest characters among them. Their lives intertwine and they work towards a common goal, catching and imprisoning a cold, callous and calculating killer. Their lives will be forever changed by what they experience. This is no killer of the week series but one that takes it’s time to focus on just one. And in so doing it makes for an interesting show that’s worth watching.
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Let me open by saying if you are unaffected by terrorist attacks like 9/11 or the Boston Marathon bombing then I don’t understand you. How anyone could not have events like that touch their hearts and souls is beyond me. No, you may not have known someone involved but the emotional makeup of a person as an individual should still have left you shocked, hurt and inspired by the aftermath and what people did. If none of those things are part of your inner workings then a movie like STRONGER will leave you untouched sad to say.
That said on to STRONGER. Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal) is an everyday ordinary guy. Working the meat counter at the local Costco in Boston he leaves work early one day to go to the Boston Marathon where he wants to support his on again/off again girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany). Jeff is habitually late or never shows but this day he’s trying to make an effort. The end result will change his life forever.
Nearing the finish line Erin hears and watches the first blast of one of two bombs set off that day by terrorists. Unbeknownst to her, Jeff was standing next to one of those two bombs. His legs blown off bystander Carlos Arredondo (Carlos Sanz) rushes to his aid. Photographed by an AP photographer the picture will become famous as will Jeff.
Injured and operated on Bauman loses both legs below the knee. At one point he regained consciousness and let it be known that he had seen one of the bombers. His description helped the FBI is sorting through the evidence they had on hand to locate the bomber. Recognition for this act made Jeff Bauman a hero in a single day. But was he ready for the fame that followed? While the bombing is central to the tale of Bauman it is that question that permeates this film.
Bauman comes from a typical blue collar family. They work hard, play hard and drink hard, perhaps some too much. His mother Patty (Miranda Richardson) adores her son and cares for him but the instant celebrity overtakes her better judgement. The chance for her son to be famous for his actions turns her head and makes her allow far too many to take advantage of him. And there is a touch of personal glory there too. By her son being recognized so is Patty. So any opportunity to place him in front of cameras she takes.
Erin on the other hand recognizes the toll it is taking on Jeff. While Jeff is not stupid by any means he was in no way prepared for what was to come or how it would affect him. The pressure of living up to everyone’s expectations of him, of being forced to become the face of “Boston strong” builds upon him. Rather than bask in the glory Jeff retreats into a world of fear and an inability to cope with the world around him. Erin stays by him trying to help as best she can but it takes a toll on her as well.
What makes this movie work is a combination of efforts by the actors involved and the choice to tell the story that most aren’t aware of. Bauman was thrust into the limelight and while the public saw the face, the pictures and the interviews they had no concept of what he was going through emotionally on a personal level. That automatic level of celebrity status was crushing to him and having failed before in various endeavors he felt he was failing to live up to their expectations of him now as well. It was less about stepping up to be a hero and more about being at the right/wrong place at the right/wrong time. He may have identified the bomber but he suffered a tremendous loss as well, both legs.
In the midst of that fame Bauman was trying to cope with that as well. The emotional burden of losing your legs was tremendous. As with many who serve in the military he was dealing with a form of PTSD without those around him knowing how to deal with it as well, how to aid him in his journey. That is the story of Jeff Bauman as portrayed in STRONGER.
Both Gyllenhaal and Maslany to a tremendous job here as Jeff and Erin. Gyllenhaal doesn’t portray Jeff as the village idiot but does allow that he may not have been a Harvard grad at the same time. His portrayal of Jeff as an average guy resonates with the majority of people in this world, a world where heroes are almost always depicted as the most educated, upper crust out there. In this case he shows that this depiction is false and that heroes are around us every day. Maslany offers a depiction of Erin as a woman who isn’t sure what to do. This is someone she cares for and has for some time. But will this make him step up to be who she needs him to be? And can she step up as well, to support him and help him on his journey?
I’ll be honest, I sat with tears in my eyes during portions of this. The suffering brought about by terrorist attacks always does this to me. But knowing about the struggle of those afterwards is also something that touches you emotionally as well. Finding that someone touched by tragedy can rise above that, above the expectations others had of them prior and to become stronger made this a movie that will inspire and touch you at the same time. Consider this a movie that everyone should see.