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Thursday, March 12, 2015


When legendary director John Ford saw John Wayne's performance in the classic Howard Hawks western RED RIVER, he reportedly remarked: "I didn't know the big son of a bitch could act!" Now, seeing Jason Momoa take on the role of Native American ex-con Phillip Kopus in the SundanceTV series "The Red Road", I find myself thinking the very same thing.

Anchor Bay's 2-disc, 6-episode DVD set THE RED ROAD: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON is a real showcase for Momoa, whom I'd only seen previously in the not-so-challenging role of Ronon in the sci-fi series "Stargate: Atlantis" (he's also appeared in CONAN THE BARBARIAN and "Game of Thrones"). Not only does the tall and physically-imposing actor remind me of the masculine, smoldering leading men of yesteryear, but there's a mesmerizing intensity and intelligence in his acting that keep a firm hold one's attention.

The series itself is well worth that attention as well. "The Red Road" is the story of two men on opposite sides of the proverbial tracks and how fate brings them together as both enemies and unwilling allies. One is Momoa's Phillip Kopus, fresh out of prison and back in his rural hometown of Walpole, New Jersey where his close-knit tribe live in sometimes uneasy conjunction with the surrounding white populace. Kopus returns to the only living he knows--stealing and selling prescription drugs for his Brooklyn-based bastard of a father, Jack (Tom Sizemore at his lowlife best).

The other is police officer Harold Jensen (Martin Henderson, THE RING, LITTLE FISH), who lives with teenage daughters Rachel (Allie Gonino) and Katie (Annalise Basso) and wife Jean (Julianne Nicholson, "Boardwalk Empire", "Law & Order: Criminal Intent"). Long haunted by the drowning death of her twin brother Brian, Jean is now showing signs of advancing schizophrenia which is exacerbated by a defiant Rachel's illicit romance with Kopus' young half-brother Junior (Kiowa Gordon, (TWILIGHT series).

When a drunken Jean is involved in a hit-and-run accident, Harold risks his career to cover up her guilt. But Kopus knows the truth and sees this as an opportunity to blackmail Harold into keeping the police out of his hair. Harold's agonizing moral conflicts are compounded when murder enters the picture, bringing with it two dogged New York investigators who suspect him of being involved.

Having stepped fully through the looking glass, the frazzled Harold is forced to take increasingly desperate and illegal measures to protect his now-suicidal wife and fragile family unit from the corruption in which Kopus has involved him. It's interesting to see this "good cop" starting using "bad cop" methods toward questionable ends and wonder if he'll go too far to ever redeem himself.

Momoa's character, meanwhile, has his own problems with unreliable accomplices, the dangerously unscrupulous Jack, and a little brother torn between a life of crime and his love for Rachel. Worse, he's made some "kill first, don't bother to ask questions later" foreign gangsters really, really mad at him.

Lean, fluid direction and very sharp writing keep this fast-moving backwoods noir bristling with excitement and suspense. Its deceptively low-key atmosphere is often punctuated by moments of harsh violence and hypnotic character interplay by a first-rate cast. Each subplot adds to the overall dramatic impact, notably Jean's struggle with her deteriorating mental state--which Harold uses to convince her that the hit-and-run never really happened--and her lingering connection to Phillip Kopus himself, whom she knew intimately in high school and blames for her twin brother's death.

We also see Junior's innate decency conflicting with the bad example set for him by his older brother (which we suspect is similar to Kopus' own formative experiences with his loathsome father) and wonder whether or not he'll break free from his influence, if only for Rachel's sake.

In addition to the always watchable Sizemore, the supporting cast includes a white-haired Mike Farrell (B.J. of TV's "M*A*S*H") as Jean's wealthy, influential father, and "The Cosby Show"s Lisa Bonet as an activist lawyer who strikes up an unlikely relationship with Kopus while defending the interests of their tribe. Tamara Tunie (WALL STREET, THE PEACEMAKER) is fine as Kopus' long-suffering mother Marie.

The 2-disc DVD from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish. Extras consist of the featurettes "Sundance on Set: The Red Road" and "The Red Road: Cast and Crew", as well as "The Red Road: Behind the Screen" which briefly focuses on each of the six episodes.

All the plotlines converge in a thrilling shoot-em-up climax to THE RED ROAD: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON, and for once the cliffhanger ending doesn't leave us totally unsatisfied. But I'm still anxious to find out what happens next season.

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