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Review: HBO’s O.G. Mistakes Ambiguity for Profundity

The HBO film’s ostensible authenticity does little to add dramatic heft to its stock character moments.

1.5

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O.G.
Photo: HBO

Though Madeleine Sackler’s O.G. stars familiar faces like Jeffrey Wright, William Fichtner, and Mare Winningham, much of its cast is filled out by people currently incarcerated in or working at Indiana’s Pendleton Correctional Facility, the real prison where the HBO film was shot. This approach promises a degree of authenticity, a departure from the average prison melodrama, but it’s one that never quite coalesces.

The film’s screenplay, by playwright Stephen Belber, is at its best when it focuses on the daily life of Louis, a prison inmate played with weathered intensity by Wright. Louis is an old hand at prison politics, with the details of his incarceration and his character slowly spooned out over the course of the film. He used to run the place, but now he’s up for parole, and he glides into various modes depending on whether he needs to glean information from a fellow inmate or assert himself when challenged by another. Throughout O.G., one gets the sense that Louis didn’t get to the top of the prison’s pecking order by being the strongest, but because he knows when to shut up and when to show strength.

Louis crosses paths with Beecher (Theothus Carter), who’s being eyed for prison gang membership, and takes the relucant young inmate under his wing. In another film, Beecher might have been the character through which we experience life at Pendleton, with Louis as the wizened mentor showing him the ropes. A reversal of this perspective is O.G.’s lone trick, though it’s not exactly a novel one: Louis’s guilt about his past and his view of Beecher as an abstract means to make amends are decidedly familiar developments.

O.G.’s ostensible authenticity does little to add dramatic heft to these stock character moments. Wright does most of the heavy lifting here, weaponizing glances and gestures to impart a weary history that the film fails to develop. Louis’s advice to Beecher—to not get involved with gangs—is tinged with hypocrisy given his own checkered past within the prison community, yet O.G. only hints at such complexities, mistaking ambiguity for profundity.

The film is low-key, lacking in big speeches and showy drama. Partially, that’s a bid for realism, a pushback against the standard prison narrative of so many films and TV shows. The inmates featured in O.G. aren’t in a position to do much more than pass anonymously through the system, but Sackler and Belber’s approach isn’t used to make any larger point. In many ways, the circumstance of the film’s creation is its most intriguing element, yet it also results in its greatest hindrance: an inoffensiveness that never spurs the audience to ask hard questions about the U.S. prison system. (One also suspects that this toothlessness emerges in no small part from the filmmakers’ collaboration with agents of that very system.) O.G. is inevitably no more illuminating than any other narrative dramatization of prison life. Its lone innovation: being built on the labor of the people whose story it purports to tell.

Cast: Jeffrey Wright, Theothus Carter, William Fichtner, Boyd Holbrook, Mare Winningham, David Patrick Kelly, Yul Vazquez Airtime: HBO

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Watch: Two Episode Trailers for Jordan Peele’s The Twilight Zone Reboot

Ahead of next week’s premiere of the series, CBS All Access has released trailers for the first two episodes.

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The Twilight Zone
Photo: CBS All Access

Jordan Peele is sitting on top of the world—or, at least, at the top of the box office, with his sophomore film, Us, having delivered (and then some) on the promise of his Get Out. Next up for the filmmaker is the much-anticipated reboot of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, which the filmmaker executive produced and hosts. Ahead of next week’s premiere of the series, CBS All Access has released trailers for the first two episodes, “The Comedian” and “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet.” In the former, Kumail Nanjiani stars as the eponymous comedian, who agonizingly wrestles with how far he will go for a laugh. And in the other, a spin on the classic “Nightmare at 20,0000 Feet” episode of the original series starring William Shatner, Adam Scott plays a man locked in a battle with his paranoid psyche. Watch both trailers below:

The Twilight Zone premieres on April 1.

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Review: Amazon’s Hanna Quickly Exhausts the Novelty of Its Premise

The series fails to uphold, subvert, or otherwise comment on the stylistic vision or thematic coherence of its source material.

1.5

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Hanna
Photo: Amazon Prime

Like the 2011 film upon which it’s based, Amazon’s Hanna follows the eponymous teen (Esme Creed-Miles) as she embarks on a revenge mission against a shadowy spy agency. The series milks visceral thrills from Hanna’s fight skills as she kicks, punches, shoots, and kills burly adult men. But where Joe Wright’s film was distinguished by its thumping Chemical Brothers score, bluntly filmed and brutal action scenes, and strikingly lensed locations, the series neither carves a unique path for itself nor upholds, subverts, or otherwise comments on the stylistic vision or thematic coherence of its source material.

After an opening sequence that sees Hanna’s parents fleeing for their lives from the spy agency, the series flashes forward to regard Hanna training with her ex-military father, Erik (Joel Kinnaman), in the woods where they live in solitude. When the duo is eventually forced to flee their safe haven, Erik reveals to Hanna that he’s actually been preparing her to hunt and kill a villainous C.I.A. agent named Marissa Wiegler (Mireille Enos). While Marissa is shown in flashback to be nefariously connected to Hanna’s childhood, Erik tells Hanna nothing else about her target. Consequently, the central mystery of Hanna’s origin, and Marissa’s role in it, is predicated on the secrets that Erik keeps from her for reasons that are never made clear.

Every episode of the series more or less follows the same format, as slow-burning cloak-and-dagger spy games eventually yield a few more revelations about Hanna’s past before leading to an eruptive and often incoherently filmed climax. The season’s middle stretch is particularly dull, as Erik and Hanna’s first attempt to kill Marissa goes awry and the teen finds herself stranded with a vacationing English family. Hanna attempts to use the relationship which emerges between Hanna and the family’s daughter, Sophie (Rhianne Barreto), to yoke a violent revenge plot to a coming-of-age teenage drama—which doesn’t work, chiefly because it’s impossible to understand why the otherwise unremarkable Sophie would be suddenly obsessed with Hanna, who’s nearly feral and prone to extreme violence.

Of course, Sophie’s fascination with her new friend is mysterious in part because Hanna herself is purposefully difficult to know, with Creed-Miles uses her open face and wide eyes to portray Hanna with a faraway look and a curious intelligence. The girl is inscrutable by Erik’s design, but less understandable is why the adults in the series, particularly Marissa, are similarly vague. Throughout, Hanna goes to great lengths to make its villain, who’s shown committing heinous acts, more sympathetic to the viewer. Certain plot twists suggest that Marissa may be ready to deal with her guilt over the nature of Hanna’s being, yet Enos’s severe, unsmiling performance and the season’s hectic third act go a long way toward muddying our sense of whatever change of heart the woman may be experiencing.

This muddled depiction of Marissa’s ostensible moral transformation, along with the introduction of a cabal of more menacing villains operating alongside her, rob the season finale of catharsis—which is about the only quality otherwise still preserved in the vicious retributions doled out by Hanna. Just as the series struggles to define Marissa’s motivations, it doesn’t hint at what might eventually happen to the rest her shadowy organization. The season’s conclusion asks as many questions as it answers, appearing to exist only so that Hanna may sustain itself, offering more henchman bones for Hanna to snap without wondering whether the character should, or even wants to, keep snapping them.

Cast: Esme Creed-Miles, Mireille Enos, Joel Kinnaman, Khalid Abdalla, Rhianne Barreto, Benno Fürmann, Sam C. Wilson, Félicien Juttner Airtime: Amazon Prime

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Watch: The Long-Awaited Deadwood Movie Gets Teaser Trailer and Premiere Date

Welcome to fucking Deadwood!

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Deadwood
Photo: HBO

At long last, we’re finally going to see more of Deadwood. Very soon after the HBO series’s cancellation in 2006, creator David Milch announced that he agreed to produce a pair of two-hour films to tie up the loose ends left after the third season. It’s been a long road since, and after many false starts over the years, production on one standalone film started in fall 2018. And today we have a glorious teaser for the film, which releases on HBO on May 31. Below is the official description of the film:

The Deadwood film follows the indelible characters of the series, who are reunited after ten years to celebrate South Dakota’s statehood. Former rivalries are reignited, alliances are tested and old wounds are reopened, as all are left to navigate the inevitable changes that modernity and time have wrought.

And below is the teaser trailer:

Deadwood: The Movie airs on HBO on May 31.

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