Thursday, July 31, 2014

REVIEW: 'The Honorable Woman' - A Proud Declaration Goes South Quickly for Nessa in 'The Empty Chair'

SundanceTV's The Honorable Woman - Episode 1.01 "The Empty Chair"

Powerful businesswoman Nessa Stein is thrown head first into a game of political cat-and-mouse when a Palestinian businessman with close connections to her family's empire is killed.

The Honorable Woman is a political story about secrets. It's a very twisty narrative that takes place in three different time periods in this premiere. It's mysterious yet very atmospheric. But mostly importantly leading woman Nessa Stein is a great character and a wonderful role for the dynamic Maggie Gyllenhaal - sporting an impeccable English accent. She's a strong woman who's trying to be a part of the solution and not the problem in the Israeli-Palestian tension. It's a very timely story but also one that feels personal. The Honorable Woman plans on taking us on a journey for 8 weeks. I'm intrigued to see where this story will go and how every little plot detail and secret will connect and pay off in the long run.

The present-day story features Nessa announcing her company's plans to lay wiring along the Gaza strip to bring phone lines and Internet connections to the area. It's a wonderful proclamation for her after years of hard work and build up. But plenty politicking remains in the way. Tensions are still incredibly high in the area. When she names the person who'll be overseeing the construction, he quickly turns up dead - even before we know who he is too. This is a wondrous time for Nessa but a dangerous one as well. She's tough and resilient and able to make these choices. But she is still vulnerable too. She has an incredible story with her family - but she also has secrets. Everyone does. Some are more intriguing than others. I'm more interested in what the heck happened eight years ago with Nessa than I am with whatever is happening with her brother, Ephra. In fact, I'm much more intrigued by the big political plot of the show than I am by the personal stuff. And yet, I have confidence with the creative team and the actors.

The Honorable Woman is the latest in a line of successes for SundanceTV - which is quickly establishing itself as this quaint place for auteuristic storytelling. I easily see this getting some Emmy love next year and I've only seen the first episode so far. I'm really looking forward to seeing the next 7 although I don't think I'll recap this on a weekly basis. It definitely has the kind of plot that lends itself to episodic reviews. There is a conspiracy at the center of it after all. But I think I'll just be quietly admiring it and recommend it to as many people as I can and then post a review after the finale in a few weeks that will cover the whole season.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Empty Chair" was written and directed by Hugo Blick. 
  • So much American television asks foreign actors to use an American accent. And yet, in the last year or so, Sundance has done the opposite - asking American actors to use foreign accents. First, Elisabeth Moss for Top of the Lake and now Gyllenhaal here. 
  • For the entire premiere, I was wondering where I've seen the actor playing Nessa's brother before. After consulting IMDB, he was on Broadchurch as the father of the murdered boy.
  • Stephen Rea's inspector character intrigues me. I'm looking forward to seeing what's next for him. He's already proven himself as a very competent and blunt man. I like that.
  • The most unnerving part of the beginning flashback to 29 years ago was that Nessa and Ephra as children didn't react at all to their father just being murdered right in front of them.
  • At times, I thought Blick's script was over-explaining things but I found him to be an amazing director. The way that he balanced the light and the darkness in that final sequence at the performance hall and then Nessa running was just beautiful.