Sunday, August 18, 2013

L.A. noir

Film noir in all its hard-boiled, existential, cynical, sexualized glory is not only alive, it is thriving at a new level of entertaining artistry we have not seen for years. No, not in the hallowed halls of cinema houses where hard-edged tales of tough guys and femme fatales once flourished.  The home for the latest rebirth of neo-noir is the Showtime premium cable network in the form of a riveting new drama called ‘Ray Donovan”.

Liev Schrieber stars in the title role, a mesmerizing character who is employed by a powerful Hollywood law firm to “takes care of problems” for the rich and famous ranging from A-list movie celebrities to NBA and NFL superstars. Imagine the Harvey Keitel character “The Wolf” from “Pulp Fiction” employed as an enforcer by the CAA and you get the idea.

Liev Schrieber is absolutely fierce as Ray Donovan. The formidable actor owns this character and we see and feel every intricate layer of imbedded turmoil and internal conflict barely kept in check by the character’s code of discipline. If Ray showed up at your door and asked you to do something—trust me—you would do it.

Every great hero (or in this case anti-hero) needs a strong antagonist and this is where the show has really knocks it out of the park. The source of all of Ray’s deep-seeded angst and his current crisis is his father Mickey, recently (and unexpectedly) released from prison.  Jon Voight is a revelation as Mickey. He is absolutely captivating—owning every frame he is in—creating a fleshed out, real character with a streak of charm so irrespirable, there are times when we sympathize with him and find Ray’s simmering hatred unreasonable; that is, until be begin to learn more about the dark, mysterious past the family left behind in Boston.

The stellar supporting cast includes Paula Malcomson as Abby, Ray’s stressed out wife.  She played a similar character in the underrated “Caprica” and once again proves she is a terrific actress.  Steven Bauer of “Scarface” fame is fantastic as Avi, Ray’s second in command. Elliot Gould brings old school movie star gravitas as Ray’s boss and mentor Ezra Goldman. And James Woods is—well—he is James Woods and was born to be in a show like this.

Even the technical credits are spot on. The show is beautifully shot. The dramatic and affecting musical score by Marcelo Zarvos feels like something composed for a lost “Godfather” sequel—it is haunting. Episode 4 of this season “Black Cadillac” was directed by John Dahl, the man behind the classic neo-noir films “Kill Me Again” (1989), “Red Rock West” (1993), and “The Last Seduction” (1994).

“Ray Donovan” airs new episodes on Sunday nights on Showtime and has four episodes left in its critically acclaimed debut season.

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