Friday, March 20, 2015

American Crime: American Fine

I thought it high time I checked in with a review of American Crime, the new ABC-TV series directed by John Ridley, who produced 12 Years a Slave.   In a word, the series is excellent - original, deep, superbly acted and plotted.  Well, that's more than one word, but they're all deserved.

In a very general way, American Crime is much like True Detective, the investigation of brutal murder(s) taking up an entire season.   In the case of American Crime, we have a married couple, the husband found murdered and the wife badly beaten and apparently sexually attacked.   They're white, and the suspects, quickly identified and rounded up by police in the first episode, are African-American and Hispanic.  The unfolding story reveals schism in the relationships of both sets of parents of the victims - as well as each set of parents to the other - as well profound differences in the suspects and their lives.   By the end of the third episode, we're giving some suspicions that the suspects may not be the perpetrators of the crimes.

Timothy Hutton and Felicity Huffman as parents of the slain Matt are outstanding, and put in what will be counted as among the best performances of their careers.   Hutton always had a large range, ranging from the comical to the cool, but his behind-the-eight-ball father in American Crime, struggling to the do the right thing in the face of a caustic wife and pressures from the parents of his son's wife Gwen, is  especially noteworthy and just masterful.

On the other side of this narrative,  Benito Martinez - whom I first got to know on The Shield - puts in a great performance as Alonzo Gutierrez, the father of one of the people arrested, a boy whose only crime seems to have been giving a car to known gang members.   Seeing Alonzo get chewed up by the legal system,  striving to keep his son out its legal claws but mostly failing because he doesn't fully understand what's going on, is a sight to behold as well as instructive about how minorities are treated when they get pulled in the criminal system in this country, whether or not through any fault of their own.   Just to underscore this point, we get a searingly memorable scene in the third episode in which his daughter Jenny, totally innocent, is almost drawn into this sick system herself - that is, she's almost arrested, when she has been doing nothing wrong.

Also memorable is Caitlin Gerard as Aubrey, drug addict and girlfriend of one of the incarcerated suspects, not dumb, but abused by life, literally thrown in a scrapheap after passing out and being sexually abused, and doing whatever she can to hold on.   We've seen characters like this on many a police drama over the years, but none quite as effective in this role.

If the first three episodes are any indication, we can expect all kinds of twists and turns and heartbreaks and maybe a sigh or two of relief in the episodes ahead, and I'm looking forward them all.

a different kind of crime

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