Ozark tells the story of Marty Byrd (Jason Bateman) and his family, who move to the Ozark mountain range from Chicago in order to launder money for a Mexican drug cartel. It owes a lot to Breaking Bad, from the family man turned criminal to the crazed cartel villains. However, this first series of Ozark has enough novelty to differentiate itself from Vince Gilligan and Bryan Cranston’s modern classic.
Jason Bateman is an inspired casting choice as Byrd. He is one of my favourite comic actors but I also love his more dramatic performances. Up in the Air, Juno, State of Play and The Gift boast the best performances of Bateman’s career. The Gift is one of my favourite films of all time and Bateman is one of the reasons why. His comedy is built on dry, sarcastic wit which can turn to coldness very easily. The Gift turns the Bateman persona into a monstrous bullying but very credible character. Under his everyman appeal can beat a very dark heart. I’d love to see him work with either David Fincher or Lynch.
As Byrd, Bateman is snide and cruel but incredibly entertaining to watch. He really stretches himself as an actor and goes places he’s never gone before. In The Gift he is a nasty guy, but in this he’s so ambiguous that he’s utterly compelling. You never know where he’s going to go next. He also does a fantastic job whenever he directs (which he does for Episodes One, Two, Nine and Ten), giving the series an energised, propulsive pace.
The rest of the cast is also excellent. Laura Linney, while a unconventional choice to play Bateman’s wife, is great. She walks the fine line between fragility and cold complicitness wonderfully and carries most of the other plot lines in the series. Sofia Hublitz is excellent as the Byrd’s complicated teenage daughter while Skylar Gaertner is an ambiguous and strange figure as Jonah, the youngest son. Jason Butler Harner is fascinating as Roy Petty, the dogged and damaged FBI agent on Byrd’s trail. His string of difficult relationships provides him with one of the most effective character arcs in the series.
However, the most compelling character for me, besides Marty, is Ruth Langmore, portrayed brilliantly by Julia Garner who I hope will be remembered in next year’s awards season. Ruth is such a complex and emotionally engaging character – on paper she’s a female Jesse Pinkman, minus the catchphrases and distinct dress sense (even though Garner’s curly blonde hair is incredibly memorable); instead she has something more compelling. She is a woman in a fairly traditional society and family, who is in charge while her father is in prison. Her battle to stay strong and remain in charge is constantly challenged, and the ways in which her vulnerabilities emerge are very moving.
The writing in this series reminds me of the work of Cormac McCarthy. In the early portions of the series, people don’t tend to have conversations, similar to McCarthy, but they engage in complex, poetic exchanges that are beautiful to listen to.
Violence is prevalent in the world of Ozark, and boy is it vicious. Despite the measured pace, when someone dies it’s never as simple as just being shot. I think this series is more grim and horrific than most of Breaking Bad, and with fewer comic moments, it means that Ozark will lose many people in certain places.
Overall, I think that this might be my favourite Netflix original series (I haven’t seen Girlboss so who knows!) as it gives me everything I want in a series. I loved everything Jason Bateman brought to the role and Julia Garner is one to watch. The note upon which this series ends leaves me excited for the next. If you liked Breaking Bad, then give this a try. It’s different and does fall into the occasional cliche, but for Garner’s performance alone it is worth a watch.
Ozark Season One is now available on Netflix. Image source: MarketWatch.com