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Dirty John Review: Connie Britton, Eric Bana Power this Netflix True Crime Saga

Jeffrey Reiner’s directorial strength lies in impartial retelling of the story. In separating us from the victims and perpetrator, he is hinting that we dissociate from them and look out for our own because things can go south for anyone.

Devasheesh Pandey | News18.com

Updated:February 16, 2019, 1:07 PM IST
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Dirty John Review: Connie Britton, Eric Bana Power this Netflix True Crime Saga
Jeffrey Reiner’s directorial strength lies in impartial retelling of the story. In separating us from the victims and perpetrator, he is hinting that we dissociate from them and look out for our own because things can go south for anyone.
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Dirty John
Cast: Connie Britton, Eric Bana, Julia Garner, Juno Temple, Jean Smart, Shea Whigham
Director: Jeffrey Reiner

Have I ever conveyed why I absolutely love true-crime? Quite simply, true-crime has more drama than narrative fiction; more chills than psycho-horror, thus, more catharsis than a classic mystery-thriller. The last one: not always though.

As such, real life criminals have inspired many villains in Hollywood, and we know how much Hollywood likes harkening back to its culture of violence and insanity for creating popular content.

Continuing the tradition, this week, Netflix has come out with another original, Dirty John, trying its best to satiate my growing curiosity for true-crime. To say that it has all the ingredients, aforementioned, blended together to the right proportion would be to liken Dirty John to some of the better genre series I have previously seen on Netflix, which is not the case here. But Dirty John certainly has something good going on, something nasty yet worthy.

Created for television by Alexandra Cunningham (Bates Motel, Chance), Dirty John is based on the very popular podcast of the same name created by Christopher Goffard of the Los Angeles Times and Wondery in October 2017. The TV series has been produced by Los Angeles Times Studios and is directed by Jeffrey Reiner (Fargo and Homeland).

Connie Britton plays the role of Debra Newell, a 50-something woman, continually judged by her two young daughters, searching for love. She is a successful interior designer, and yet, four marriages flushed down the drain, wants to settle with someone, again. Online dating has brought her closer to a pool of potential lovers, however, the connection, with each one, seems to be lost, somewhere between desperation and expensive luncheons. Maybe, she is being too hard on herself for wanting the perfect guy!

connie

Enter John Meehan (Eric Bana), a smart, charming soul, who, for once, would actually listen to Debra. Shorts and T-shirt, nothing too much but still a caring man. Debra falls in love, quick as a wink. The next steps: moving in together and getting married happen rather quickly, and against her daughters’ preference and knowledge, but who cares as long as Debra gets what she deserves. Love.

Dirty John

As truth reveals itself, John is not what Debra thinks he is- a kind husband, a loving sweetheart. No. To be fair to her, he is all of this from the outside, but on the inside, John is a serial con artist, and Debra is just a game that he is too much invested in to not be winning at all cost.

What powers this beautiful-set-up-turned-worst-nightmare are the performances of the characters, both lead and supportive.

Connie is Debra. The role was carved out for her, or rather she moulds herself for this role. Debra’s fear, confusion, uncertainty, vulnerability and doubt are all rolled into Connie’s being, in front of the camera, and she materialises perfectly into the victim that she is meant to play. Nowhere is she overboard with her emotions. Subtlety is her strong suit.

Bana is equally good. John was menacing by virtue of his existence and we witness that in Bana’s physiognomy. He doesn’t need to shout, threaten or break things to appear intimidating. He’d rather be smart and let things take their usual course before intervening. Pushed over the limit, he is nasty in wordplay and frightening in demeanor, which is enough to suggest the opponent maintain the distance.

There are some strong character portrayals by Julia Garner as Terra Newell, Juno Temple as Veronica Newell and Jean Smart as Arlene Hart, and a delightful small appearance by Shea Whigham as William Meehan, John’s father. Arlene and William bridge Debra’s and John’s past with their present. Where they are both coming from, where they are at and to what extent can they go are tightly rolled into two episodes, connecting individual past with their folks.

As for Terra and Veronica, they are the daughters that one would want, and at times not want, in every sense of the word. They complete the portrait of a happy-family-turned-unwilling-victims, with Debra in focus. Obnoxiously overbearing in meddling with Debra’s life, a little selfish that way too, but who wouldn’t want to save their mother from a sociopath and a potential killer.

Reiner’s directorial strength lies in impartial retelling of the story. In separating us from the victims and perpetrator, he is hinting that we dissociate from them and look out for our own because things can go south for anyone. Long shots are used to orient us with the setting of Dirty John, which largely unfolds inside houses. Strangely, homes are supposed to be a safe place for the dweller. Not here though, not even close.

Editing, however, is what elevates storytelling in Dirty John. The past and present are intercut to place us on top of the narrative that is yet to unfold. It is also meant to give individual characters upper hand over the other. Since action is taking place at several places together, no one really has the lead, except the viewers. But then all comes to a point where we are together with John and Debra again, with our little insight, but to no avail, as we don’t know what they might do next.

Dirty John is a good show, not a great show. To be honest, the Wondery podcast was better. The anthology series has been renewed for another season. Dirty John is currently streaming on Netflix. Watch it for its climax.

Rating: 3/5

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