Monday, June 18, 2012

Inside Men: Dramaville Goes Noir

Incentives matter.  A cash-processing depot manager is put through the wringer by his superiors for the occasional irregularity in his accounts, but if an armed robber sticks a gun in his face, they will grant him time-off and provide counseling.  If he is ever going to steal from the apparently impenetrable Larson House, he ought to do it in a big way.  That is pretty much his plan in the four-part Inside Men (promo here), which premieres this Wednesday on BBC America’s Dramaville showcase.

The unassuming John Coniston is like a Bob Cratchit, promoted to management.  He is keenly aware neither his boss nor his subordinates respect him.  When viewers first meet Coniston, he is having a bad day.  Masked gunmen are forcing him to open the vault, while an accomplice holds his wife and newly adopted daughter hostage.  However, there is more to this story, as the series title ought to indicate.

Yes, Coniston is in on it, but there are complications he never anticipated.  Having caught his chief security guard Chris Lebden and loading dock worker Marcus Riley skimming mere tens of thousands off the top, he recruits them for a far more ambitious take: the lot of it.

Constantly flashing forward and backwards between the September heist and the planning stages six months earlier, Inside Men requires fairly close viewer attention.  While there is plenty of skullduggery afoot, it is really more of a dark character study.  Writer Tony Basgallop and director James Kent show us step by step how it all goes down, twisting viewer assumptions here and there along the way.

The deceptively bland Coniston is clearly the key piece to the conspiracy.  Steven Mackintosh convincingly sells his burgeoning empowerment as a criminal mastermind.  Indeed, some of his best scenes involve the grudgingly respectful relationship he forges with Kalpesh, the purveyor of criminal support services reluctantly brought into the scheme.  Though his character arc is quite intriguing, it is still hard to believe Coniston would put his family through such trauma, despite the safeguards he puts in place.

As Riley, fellow Luther alumnus Warren Brown makes a credible enough good-time knucklehead, while emerging UK TV star Ashley Walters is appropriately intense as the conflicted Lebden.  However, the most invigorating supporting turn might come from Irfan Hussein, playing Kalpesh with icy flair.

Inside Men could well be too cold-blooded and intricately pieced together for fans of cozier British mystery television.  Unabashedly naturalistic in its depiction of human nature, it definitely follows in the tradition of more fatalistic film noir.  Even though it ends on a bit of a flat note, it is smart television, keeping a fair amount of surprises in store for engaged audiences.  Recommended for those who enjoy a dark criminal yarn, Inside Men begins this Wednesday (6/20) and concludes July 18th (skipping the Independence Day), on BBC America.