The opening scene of the first season Red Road episode “The Great Snake Battle” reminded me of a scene from James Gray’s directorial feature Little Odessa. Both use a skinny hallway of a rundown New York City tenement as their setting, both depict a passionate confrontation between father and son, and both show how quickly a power dynamic can change from one man to the next. The comparison is strengthened somewhat by the fact that Gray directed Road‘s pilot episode “Arise My Love, Shake Off This Dream“; this fifth episode, focusing almost exclusively on main characters Phillip Kopus and Harold Jensen, is also the best since Gray’s opening hour.
We’ve seen how smart and manipulative Jason Momoa’s Kopus can be in pretty much every episode so far. He always seems to have the upper hand, even when he’s pissed off or cornered or spoken to like a child by his manic father Jack. It’s Jack and Phillip who come head-to-head in that dim hallway, the former ripping the door open with a gun in his hand and demanding his payment, the latter hardly saying a word at all. It’s not the fact that Phillip is quiet that makes this scene different — we’ve talked at length about the silent observations of Kopus, watching from afar and gathering ammunition to use against anyone and everyone. But he’s more than just quiet in this hallway scene. As his father rips into him, Kopus seems truly sad. Sad Kopus is without a doubt a new Kopus.
Continue reading The Red Road 1.5 – “The Great Snake Battle”
We discussed the significance of the episode titles of the first season of The Red Road in our review of the second episode “The Wolf and the Dog“, one of a handful of Native American legends employed as allusion and metaphor for the events of the series. “The Bad Weapons” is no different, but the episode goes one further in attempting to apply the belief systems of the given tribe (in this case the Blackfoot Nation) to the moral quandaries of Philip Kopus, Harold Jensen, and the other residents of Walpole, NJ.
There’s a Red Road subplot revolving around the years-ago death of Jean’s twin brother that rears its head again in “Bad Weapons”. It’s certainly an important history for the show (or at least the opening season), mainly because of the subtle intimation that Kopus might have been involved in that untimely demise. But as Jean and Harold’s daughter Rachel discovers tape recordings of the twin’s stream of consciousness, that particular storyline slips away from importance and approaches convenience instead.
Continue reading The Red Road 1.4 – “The Bad Weapons”
The Red Road, great as it is, is like any other show in the history of television: it has weak spots. “The Woman Who Fell from the Sky”, the third episode of the opening season, is likely the first time the chinks in the armor are visible. The writing up until this point has been largely commendable, succumbing to the occasional been-there-done-that moment, but mostly avoiding them, hinting at new roads (red ones) instead of relishing the old ones. “Woman” is a bit shakier, but thankfully Jason Momoa’s Philip Kopus, far and away the best character on the show, does what he can to save this particular episode from sliding wholly into those moments of cliché.
These days, “antihero” is like a curse word. We’re living in a post-Breaking Bad world, so the last word on the TV antihero thing has kind of been said. Does that mean antiheroes should be avoided altogether? Of course not. But is that what Kopus is? Hard to say. He has some qualities of an antihero in that he’s definitely a bad guy, robbing medical wholesalers and dealing in guns and drugs and manipulating kids, but he’s simultaneously someone you root for. It’s fun as hell to watch him do his thing, even if that thing isn’t strictly legal.
Continue reading The Red Road 1.3 – “The Woman Who Fell from the Sky”
Part of what makes The Red Road so good is the sense that the story being told is both an all-out pedal-to-the-metal crime drama and a meditative slow burn. “The Wolf and the Dog” epitomizes that juxtaposition as well as any other episode of the first season, containing breakneck bursts of action in one scene and calm intensity in the next, toggling effortlessly back and forth throughout the hour. The second episode picks up right after “Arise My Love, Shake Off This Dream“, following Harold as he stalks through a junkyard in the early morning hours looking for a bumper to replace the dented one on his truck. Any doubt he had regarding the guilt of his wife Jean in the Ramapo Mountain hit and run is dispelled when he finds a shred of shirt in the old bumper.
Julianne Nicholson’s Jean and Martin Henderson’s Harold get fleshed out a little more in “The Wolf and the Dog”, and their relationship provides more of that simmering calm and apparent collectedness that just begs to boil over. Nicholson makes Jean’s shaky insanity phenomenally convincing, moving frailly from scene to scene like a marionette. What’s interesting is that the hit and run was never really in question for her. She may have been in denial, stating that she hit a deer or a dog instead of a young boy, but she never denied hitting something. Now that Harold has replaced the bumper and done what he can to dispel the rumor of Jean’s guilt, he’s essentially forced her to doubt the one thing that she actually had a firm grip on.
Continue reading The Red Road 1.2 – “The Wolf and the Dog”
There are obvious similarities between James Gray’s third film We Own the Night and his first two features Little Odessa and The Yards, and they’re mostly positive points. All three are New York crime dramas that focus on families straddling the moral wires of right and wrong, all have strong supporting characters, and all have a good handful of unique and intense action scenes. Considered side-by-side We Own the Night might be the “glossiest” of the three, lacking some of the grit of Odessa and Yards but also lacking some of the exciting virility Gray brought to those films. Still, the result is a more-than-passable NYC crime story.
The premise is highly familiar, and that alone may relegate Night to the rung below the likes of the arrestingly deviant Little Odessa. Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg play Bobby and Joey, brothers on opposite sides of the law, the former owner of a seedy drug-fueled nightclub and the latter a golden boy NYPD officer. The events that bring them together aren’t altogether unfamiliar either. The big bad Russian drug dealer Vadim frequents Bobby’s place, so Joey (for some strange reason) believes his estranged brother to be the only person in the entire packed nightclub who can inform on him. Vadim (for some strange reason) suddenly puts an inordinate amount of trust in Bobby, letting him in on a secret to which only his most trusted henchmen are privy. If this all sounds disappointingly typical for an opposite-sides-of-the-law drama, that’s because it is.
Continue reading We Own the Night (2007)
Though True Detective devoured nearly all of last year’s television glory, the SundanceTV series The Red Road deserves mention in the same breath. Massively overlooked but strong enough to be renewed for a second season (which premieres April 2015), the show centers on a small New Jersey town in the foothills of the Ramapo Mountains. Decades of rough history between the town locals and the Lenape Native American tribe begins to flare up again, and two men — Officer Harold Jensen (Martin Henderson) and ex-convict Phillip Kopus (Jason Momoa) — become wrapped up in the middle.
Created by Aaron Guzikowski (writer of Prisoners), The Red Road brings that rough history into the present in a way that few series dare. At times it’s made explicit, especially in scenes recounting the death of Harold’s brother-in-law as members of the Lenape tribe (maybe even Kopus himself) stood by. Those scenes are compelling, but it’s the mysterious, unseen aura of Us vs. Them that really gives The Red Road serious clout, vibing uneasily in every sequence. Is it racism? Or is it simpler, illogical and obdurate hatred, free of any and all motivation, free as a virus in the mountainside community?
Continue reading The Red Road 1.1 – “Arise My Love, Shake Off This Dream”