The series champion David E. Kelley is behind the new HBO series where Danish Susanne Bier sits firmly in the Directors chair. Together they have created a very engaging thriller, The Undoing, with Kidman in great shape.
The rich play ground
In a luxury apartment in Manhattan, the cancer surgeon Jonathan (Hugh Grant) lives with his psychologist wife Grace (Nicole Kidman) and their sheltered / spoiled son.
Seemingly the perfect marriage, with an impeccable facade and everything one could want in and of life. The son goes, of course, to private school (which costs well over $ 50,000 a year) and Grace’s father (Donald Sutherland) is a respected elder in his mansion.
The evenings are spent with a good glass of wine in front of the fireplace or at various charity events where you can “buy a discount” by bidding $ 1,000 for a glass of tap water.
But, the idyll breaks hard and brutally as the young, seductive mother, Elena (Matilda De Angelis), of one of the elite school students is found (literally) beaten to death in her small gallery – the same night Jonathan disappears without a trace…
On the run
Like Harrison Ford himself (who was also a doctor) in The Fugitive, Jonathan puts his tail between his legs when he is suspected of the murder. The suspicion is not significantly weakened when it emerges that he has been the victim’s son’s doctor, accused of sexual harassment at work and has had a (long-term) sexual relationship with the deceased.
Eventually he emerges from the shadows, is arrested and charged. Of course, he claims his innocence regarding murder, and pleads Grace to believe him.
The battle for Jonathan’s credibility (and murky past) becomes as important an element in the series as who actually killed Elena; and in the background lurks pater familias.
Kelley and Kidman
The plot itself is not the most original, but the execution and the acting sparkles.
There are many similarities with the universe from Kelley and Kidman’s latest series, the fabulous Big Little Lies. Once again we are in the economic, white, elite of American society, women are treated badly and behind the perfect rich man’s facade it is not always as idyllic.
Can tend to clichés, but Kelley is so damn good with a well-written and intelligent script, a captivating and engaging plot and, above all, has an A-team of actors.
Not everything is equally credible, the plot has its gaps and logical weaknesses while some of the characters become more or less stereotypical. But Bier has a tight and clear direction, where the story has time to unfold, the dramaturgy escalates in intensity, and the actors bring life and soul to the characters.
We applaud Kidman for another brilliant performance, which will probably secure her an Emmy nomination, but once again, in fact, the elders are the oldest.
Donald Sutherland has an incredibly intense presence and aura in every scene he is in. The old legend takes the room and dominates his scenes. When Sutherland, in episode 4, almost recites:
«But make no mistake, I am a cocksucker
And I don’t mean that in the sense of gay belittlement, as it’s currently been come to be interpreted.
No! I’m an old fashioned cocksucker.
The more traditional kind.
The kind who fucks over everyone who hurts me, or a loved one.
You speak of ugliness Mr. Connaver,
You have not yet met ugliness.»
we get chills down our spine!
From book to movie
The script is based on the novel You Should Have Known by the American author Jean H. Korelitz, and one sholud probably have cut more from the book’s content to tighten up the story a bit; some of the episodes feel unnecessarily long. But that’s trifles in the big picture.
The Undoing has become a very successful thriller where you occasionally sit on the edge of the couch and wonder who did it, at the same time it has more depth and greater complexity than the average thriller.
Here it is personal secrets, deceptions, lies and damned lies that make the characters vulnerable – and highly human. The psychological element scores 5 notable stars.