It’s Not Easy Being Clean (Series Review: “Ozark”)

ozarkPOSTERWhen a Midwestern financial planner uproots his family for Missouri’s Ozark Mountains to launder millions of dollars for a violent Mexican drug lord, he’s shocked to discover the world he’s entered makes Chicago’s mean streets look like Disneyland. This is Ozark.

 

SnapShot Plot

Although the redneck element in Netflix’s 10-part original series, Ozark  doesn’t rise to the backwoods hillbilly milieu in the Jennifer Lawrence vehicle, Winter’s Bone (also a Norma’s Streaming Picks fave), the level of brute malevolence among the characters is the same. And in both that movie and this series, the Ozark Mountains provide a mysterious backdrop of shrouded beauty and gloom which accentuates the split between their culture/customs and that of the big city. This makes the story of the Byrde family’s abrupt departure from Chicago and resettlement to Lake of the Ozarks that much more visceral. Marty, Wendy and their teenaged children become the classic strangers in a strange land, tasked with the challenge to immediately take root and ingratiate themselves into a community they neither understand nor appreciate. Because the stakes couldn’t be higher. Their utter survival depends on Marty’s ability to prove to ‘the second largest drug dealer in Mexico’ that his life deserved to be spared so that tens of millions of dollars can be more efficiently laundered through the criminal pipeline. Marty and Wendy begin to insinuate themselves into local businesses so that their scam can work, which brings them face to face with an increasingly bizarre and violent cross-section of humanity. As if this weren’t enough, the FBI is on their trail and they themselves are still reeling from the fallout from a critical betrayal in their marriage.

 

 

 

Parting Shot

Ozark is the kind of slow burn that takes its time to get under your skin, but after the 4th episode the spell is cast, due in large part to the fine performances of Jason Bateman as Marty, the always brilliant Laura Linney as Wendy, and Julia Garner (The Americans; The Perks of Being a Wallflower) as Ruth, a young local whose brilliant criminal sensibilities are up for grabs.

Perhaps it all started with Tony Soprano. It’s a now familiar trope of the family man/mobster whose criminal life teeters on the periphery of the American Dream that’s been painstaking built on a house of cards, or in the case of Ozark, stacks and stacks of dirty bills. Comparisons of Marty Byrde will be made more, though, to the unforgettable character of Walter White (from the iconic series, Breaking Bad) than to Tony, in that Tony’s criminal persona was more externally and socially known than that of the mild-mannered Walter and Marty (both of whose criminal dealings were more obscured and hidden from plain sight).

A word about Laura Linney.  She saves everything she’s in from cuteness, melodrama, or treacly sentimentality without breaking a sweat. There are few actresses who can do more with less than Linney. What she conveys in a glance, a squint, a crooked smile, not to mention that voice, the intelligence in the eyes, the instantly grounded presence of her characters. . . this actress commands that you pay attention and that you believe her.

Even if the character of Marty Byrde might not rise to the iconic level of Walter White, it’s a damn close tie and we’ll see in Season II if they become blood brothers or not. Stay tuned!

Season I of Ozark is presently streaming on Netflix.

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YouTube Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_si7h91201E

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