The Netflix Fix: March

Every month, we select a quartet of ‘Netflix Originals’ and review the lot in less than 500 words. Rated this month: ‘Icarus‘, ‘Mute‘, ‘Bright‘ and ‘Mudbound‘.

Mudbound (2017) – 3/5

Mudbound

Told through six distinct POV’s, writer-director Dee Rees’ ‘Mudbound’ is both a visually impressive period epic and an intimate study of racial prejudice, with it’s uniquely compound story focusing on two conflicting families in the Jim Crow South.

A starry cast give the characters weight, whilst Rachel Morrison’s (Black Panther) excellent cinematography lends the film a visual depth it’s culturally relevant story deserves. Despite the film’s dense run-time and slow opening, ‘Mudbound’ is worth wading into.

Bright (2017) – 2/5

Bright 2

David Ayer excels at ‘buddy cop thrillers’. His ‘Training Day’ (2001) script is still arguably his magnum opus, with solo (‘Street Kings’, 2008) and team (‘Sabotage’, 2014) police efforts typically failing to shine. So with ‘Bright’ promising to meld fantasy lore with Ayer’s buddy cop sensibilities five years on from the outstanding ‘End of Watch’ (2012), it seemed a welcome gift from Netflix…

But ‘Bright’ stays closer to the comic mess of ‘Suicide Squad’ (2016) than the urban grit of ‘Harsh Times’ (2005). And, surprisingly for an actor with such natural charisma, Will Smith’s leading cop – who we first meet beating a tiny female fairy to death with a baseball bat – lacks the likeability of Christian Bale’s (‘Harsh Times’ 2005) or Denzel Washington’s (‘Training Day’) narcissistic anti-heroes.

Add to the potion some clunky plotting and ropy production values, and on this occasion, Ayer has only conjured up a disappointing slab of mediocrity.

Mute (2018) – 2/5

Mute 2

Duncan Jones’ ‘Warcraft’ (2016) follow-up is a tonally awkward, hard-boiled noir in which the ‘detective’ (Alexander Skarsgard’s ‘Leo’) is too often shirked in favour of the two-dimensional characters around him (Paul Rudd’s ‘Cactus’ and Justin Theroux’s ‘Duck’), and in which the futuristic setting has no logical reason to not be the present or past.

The best science fiction uses it’s world to interrogate universal themes. Jones’ debut ‘Moon’ (2009) is one such example, using Sam Rockwell’s secluded lunar base to explore loneliness and more. ‘Mute’ does hint at deeper meanings and broader ideas, parenthood chief among them, but never understands how to convincingly convey them.

As Leo moves glumly from one pointlessly neon location to the next, that’s exactly what we do; slump needlessly from one scene into another without learning, experiencing or – critically – enjoying much.

Icarus (2017) – 3/5

Icarus

Filmmaker and cyclist Ben Fogel sets out to determine how easy it is to get away with doping in the wake of the Armstrong scandal. His quest introduces him to Grigory Rodchenkov, then-director of Russia’s anti-doping laboratories, and a man so gregarious that he’s soon the unrivalled star of this Oscar-winning documentary.

Rodchenkov and Fogel’s alliance quickly becomes a friendship, and ‘Icarus’ is soon blending animation with backstory and political conspiracies with George Orwell quotes. The Olympics, KGB, suspicious deaths and witness protection all collide in a globetrotting ‘thriller’ that’s never quite as exhilarating as it sounds.

Perhaps the impressive assemblage and polished finish mean ‘Icarus’ lacks documentary realism, but this ‘unreal’ aura could also be a natural reaction to Russia’s manipulation. The very idea of a state-sponsored doping program genuinely is unbelievable. Yet it’s laid bare here in intricate, entertaining detail.

NETFLIX

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