Credit Where It Is Due
by ELEANOR MORROW
creators Bill Dubuque & Mark Williams
Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) has perfected the art of the diet, and here is his secret. He never eats, not once in Ozark, but there is a good reason for this. He never sleeps either, which is maybe the easiest weapon Americans have against obesity. He can’t feasibly do either of these things, because he is very afraid of his employer, a Mexican drug dealer named Del (Esai Morales).
His wife Wendy (Laura Linney) becomes aware of this situation relatively early on in Ozark. Quite naively, she attempts to empty their joint checking account and bail on her husband with about $30,000. (She also counts on the financial support of a lover who is later out of the picture.) Linney and Bateman have very little in the way of sexual chemistry, but that is no problem, because once Marty finds out about his wife’s move against him, he dissolves their marriage in favor of a financial partnership intended to raise their two children, Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz) and Jonah (Skyler Gaertner).
Everything in Ozark is generally gloamed in a somewhat annoying blue light, but not even less than stellar cinematography can take away the charm of this Missouri region. The Byrdes are forced to relocate out of Chicago because of a long monologue in which Marty saves himself from a bullet in the head, and they could not have selected a more lovely place. Wendy is designated with the task of finding the nuclear family an inexpensive home to house their belongings, and she chooses a gorgeous mansion directly on the water.
It is there that Marty spends a lot of time observing his children. He no longer has a day-to-day straight job that keeps him away from his kids. On an impulse, Wendy informs the teenagers that their father launders money for a living, and they generally take this news in good humor. During an extensive voiceover where Marty explains how tarnished cash can be magically transformed into useful assets, he makes it seem like the violent and evil business of which he is such a massive part is no more than the actions of a typical accountant.
In fact, Ozark does a great deal to convince its audience that this family is has only been placed in an untenable situation. Early on, an FBI agent named Trevor (McKinley Belcher III) oftens Marty immunity against prosecution from the government. This is a pretty heady possibility, since Marty seems to know very little of his boss’ operation and basically only has $8 million in three suitcases that indicates he is on the other side of the law.
Watching him work that $8m is the primary fun of Ozark. He quickly employs a mendacious local woman, Ruth Langmore (the astonishingly talented Julia Garner), to rob a local strip club for him, and watching him interact with people who lack the income and power to resist the charms of his financial acumen is terribly enjoyable. Bateman has always been a disciplined and engaging actor, and this role, where all his comedy is bound up in verboseness without turning that way of speaking into something silly, suits him completely.
Linney has a somewhat broader challenge here, because she is the most unsympathetic member of the family with the least realistic character. Unsurprisingly, she turns Wendy into a much more multifaceted person than is ever evident in Bill Dubuque’s fast-paced, thrilling scripts for Ozark. Watching her work as a local realtor is perhaps too familiar of storyline, but on the plus side, it allows us to see the local poverty from a unique vantage.
Netflix has been missing on so many of its original offerings lately, that it is exciting to see something of Ozark‘s quality emerge onto the scene. Sadly, enduring repeated seasons of this milieu would probably be more trial than godsend. There is a fun, brisk comedy to this fish-out-of-water story that keeps us engaged in the action. The second the heat falls down and lingers on any of the stiffer characters, we feel considerably more bored. There is not really too much depth to this Breaking Bad-clone, but that is all right.
Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording.