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Always assume Spoilers and possible profanity in context. These are often adult themed movies.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Thorne: Sleepyhead

I continue to be amazed at the amount of solid crime stories the BBC is putting out. Not being terribly familiar with David Morrisey until his recent turn as The Governor in "The Walking Dead," his "Thorne" series slipped completely beneath my radar. Based on the novels of Mark Billingham, they cover familiar territory, with enough twists on the formulas and care taken with the characters, that it easily takes its place among the top quality crime series. The three episode miniseries format, gives the events room to breath but isn't so sprawling that the viewer loses focus.

In the first series "Sleepyhead," Tom Thorne is the star detective at his police station, having fairly recently cracked a big serial killer case. Thorne's elevated status affects everyone he works with as we see when rookie detective Dave Holland (O. T. Fagbenle) makes a mistake and compares himself unfavorably to Thorne, who is rumored to have caught a serial killer with only his intuition during a hand shake. The story is mocked by Thorne's fellow detective and former partner Kevin Tughan (Eddie Marsan) who tells Holland that the handshake is the story Thorne's whole reputation is based on. When a new series of bodies starts piling up, the entire department is out to catch a new killer. However, when a fourth victim is found, not dead but paralyzed with "locked in syndrome" Thorne questions whether murder is the intent at all. He makes many attempts to communicate with the paralyzed girl who is after all, an eye witness.

When it's clear that the new killer has ties to Thorne's last serial killer, and knows more about how the previous case was handled than he should, Thorne must reexamine everything, including the role of Phil Hendricks (Aidan Gillen,) Thorne's friend and the Department's forensic examiner, as well as the only person to witness Thorne's showdown with the previous killer. Thorne himself is knocked out by the killer and when he wakes up later, reasons that the killer doesn't want him dead, but wonders about his intentions. Tensions increase in the Department as Tughan's resentment over Thorne's successful status prompts him to take over the investigation, eager to take Thorne down a peg. Thorne and Hendricks must settle the secret they share, and their best lead remains the paralyzed girl, who with great effort starts communicating with her eyelids. Thorne and Phil's secret becomes pivotal to solving the case although Thorne can't afford it getting out.

Thorne: Sleepyhead presents an interesting case, a serial killer that isn't out to kill at all, but to "save" his victims. Of course his method of "saving" is perhaps more cruel than death would be. The Killer's knowledge of Thorne's last high profile case limits the possible suspects and when the most obvious is ruled out, it leaves only perplexing possibilities. Thorne's search is complicated by the tension that arises when the killer's clues suggest to his fellow police officers that Thorne himself is a murderer. This sends loyalties in all different directions. Rookie cop Dave Holland sticks to playing it by the book, as he doesn't think himself comparable to Thorne yet. Hendrick's relationship with Thorne becomes strained to it's limit, as the secret he and Thorne share has been bothering him for years, and is now being thrown in his face in the worst possible way. Kevin Tughan however, welcomes the chink in Thorne's armor, and when Thorne is sidelined by his encounter with the killer, he attempts to shut Thorne out of things completely, wanting to get the credit for solving the case, as well as hoping for evidence to prove he's the better cop, making up for his feeling of being slighted by Thorne's celebrity.  Eventually the goal of incriminating Thorne for murder becomes more important to him than the main case.

Thorne simply continues to investigate as best he can, understandably obsessed with solving all the mysteries involved. His persistence in questioning Allison Willetts (Sara Lloyd-Gregory)  the victim with "Locked In Syndrome" pays off, although no one including the doctors (or Tughan) believes that it will. The viewer is given access to Willetts' thoughts, an interesting effect which shows her confusion and limitations and underscores the depravity of the killer who would intentionally leave her in that state. Despite the lack of clues the killer remains active and it becomes more personal when Thorne's love interest, Anne Coburn (Natascha McElhone) finds her daughter in possible jeopardy, even as Tughan is convinced they already have the killer in custody.

Morrisey plays Thorne's understated obsessiveness very well, giving us a detective with a sharp mind and keen intuition, who is still vulnerable to the harsh circumstances of his work. He has to balance his own celebrity with the fact that there's more to the story than he ever wants to be known, as his legend would certainly be compromised. He has a tough time maintaining relationships due to his lack of attention to subtleties required to keep everyone's egos settled. Tughan and Hendricks his closest associates, each have axes to grind of different sorts but both are stung by his aloofness and his rigid belief in his own judgement, so much so that he won't even entertain another's idea if he doesn't like it. Tughan's resentment builds and builds to the point of mania. Hendricks comes across as more hurt than anything else, and tired of carrying the secret. Thorne's introversion doesn't come across as intentionally hurtful, he simply doesn't see the effort to be sociable as worth the the time wasted going in the wrong direction. And whether those around him like it or not, without his skills they have little hope of solving the case.

Compared to other recent BBC TV detectives, Detective Inspector Thorne is not dripping with despair like "Wallander," or ruthlessly and brilliant like "Luther." He's as obsessive as either, but without those qualities, he's more vulnerable than both. He seems as surprised by his intuition as anyone at times, and he gets frantic when he knows he's right. He's still surprised by atrocity, and in flashbacks we see what it takes to push him far enough to step over the line of proper police conduct, and it isn't hard to sympathize. His flaw (if it''s a flaw, it certainly complicates his life) is that his reasoning is overtaken by his identification with the victims. Throughout the series he can't shake images from the victims of his last case, who have much in common with the incapacitated Allison. Likewise, he can't abandon his attempts to get through to her.

The "Sleepyhead" series is directed wonderfully by Stephen Hopkins. Touches like voiceover thoughts of the paralyzed victim, and the slow build up of conflict between Thorne and his former partners, reinforce the very real sense of mounting danger. Thorne's  world is presented as stark, hard, and cold. We witness Thorne from all angles, being pursued by his past and those attempting to dig it up, every bit as thoroughly as he pursues the killer. Hopkins also presents Thorne's love of classic country music beautifully, using songs from The Louvin Brothers, Slim Whitman and Waylon Jennings to great effect when Thorne has a moment alone. Certainly Thorne understands the dark world where those songwriters live, as the tone of their songs fits his own situations. Morrisey, Gillen and Marsan, all in fine form, present us with a kind of makeshift dysfunctional brotherhood, illustrating that small slights can cause more malice than direct insults. All in all I highly recommend "Sleepyhead" to anyone interested in detective stories.  I only hope they get to more of them eventually. It doesn't reinvent the Detective/Serial killer dynamic but it has more than enough personality to keep you watching.


tubeistdan said...

I'm unsettled by the very final words of the movie, the killer's theme-phrase. It's a female's voice. The neurologist doctor? Why?

Puscifer10000 said...

I saw it as some sense of closure, seeing as she she was cutting Alison's life support off, per her request.

Sharann said...

What did the other doctor (male neurologist) have to do with the murders? Anything? It looked like him in the hospital room with Ally and Rachael. ??