Indoors much? Aren’t we all? One degree Celsius and overcast outside? It would make you wonder about life. But it could be worse. Oh yes it could. Here are three thrillers about people in extraordinary, dangerous circumstances to distract you.
Condor (Super Channel on demand) didn’t get tons of attention when it first landed two years ago. In the United States it was made for AT&T Audience Network, and not widely available. In Canada it landed on Super Channel and the first season is an excellent, thrilling binge-watch. Derived from the 1975 film and 1974 James Grady novel Three Days of the Condor, it’s a conspiracy drama that starts slowly and then moves at a blistering pace. Max Irons plays central figure Joe Turner, a CIA employee unsure about the moral rightness of his work, but thrown into a crisis that’s partly of his own making. There might be a terrorist on the loose who plans to release a plague-like substance in a huge football stadium, killing thousands of Americans.
Is this a real threat or a setup to undermine the Agency? Is the Agency itself being undermined from inside? Joe knows too much, but he’s an analyst not an action-guy. When a near-bloodbath happens, he goes on the run. There’s an excellent cast here. Irons (son of Jeremy Irons) is great as the guy who must use his wits, not guns, bombs and gadgets. William Hurt is in superb form as Joe’s uncle and mentor and Bob Balaban stands out as one of those seemingly meek but sinister figures in the complicated conspiracy plot. The first season runs 10 episodes and the second has begun running weekly on Super Channel.
The Minions of Midas (Netflix) is a six-episode (Spanish with English subtitles) mystery-thriller that is more mood and texture than action-filled. Loosely based on a Jack London short story, it is set in a contemporary Spain with rising social tensions. Businessman Victor Genoves (Luis Tosar), heads the Malvar Group, a media empire. He inherited it from the empire’s founder, and isn’t sure why. He gets a note from an organization called The Minions of Midas, demanding that he pay a large sum, or a person will be killed at random, and the killings will continue until he pays up. He ignores it.
At the same time, a young journalist from a Malvar paper has a scoop about a Spanish bank involved in corruption. The bank keeps Malvar afloat but Victor publishes it. Then, a person is killed precisely as the Midas group threatened. The storyline becomes one about corruption, politics and a rising tide of populist rage. A slow-burner and very much about Europe now.
To The Lake (Netflix), which I’ve mentioned in passing is a brace-yourself before you embrace-it experience because this Russian series (with English subtitles) is about a society coming apart as an airborne disease spreads. It arrived on Netflix last month and has quickly become a cult hit. You feel you’re watching something that was uncannily prescient about a COVID-type affliction on society. Stunning in the visuals, it is rooted in a small family but with big implications. It opens with suggestions of doom in Moscow as many people become ill. Soon, everyone’s wearing a mask. There is quarantine and isolation. Then things get worse as military figures go rogue and rampage. Then, the meat of the series is a long and dangerous road trip to a place that might be safe.
At the heart is Sergey (Kirill Karo), a decent man in love with his wife Anna (Viktoriya Isakova) and caring about her son, Misha (Eldar Kalimulin), who has been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. Sergey’s main problem in life is his ex, Irina (Maryana Spivak), who now loathes him. Then there is the boorish oligarch-type Lyonya (Aleksandr Robak), who with his pregnant wife Marina (Gilli Messer), a former stripper, tries to cope with his tearaway daughter Polina (Viktoriya Agalakova). Polina is a great creation, an absolute nightmare of ticked-off teen rebellion. They all know each other, but not that well and the tensions only mount as they try to get to safety, facing terrible danger on the way. Few series have captured the sense of dread that an airborne disease can inflict, and the wintry setting will ring true for Canadians.
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