Monday, October 31, 2022

Inside Man, on Netflix

Statistics indicate most murders are committed by close friends or family members. Jefferson Grieff agrees and he ought to know. The criminologist brutally murdered and decapitated his wife. However, he is still accepting cases on a special, limited-time-only basis, until his sentence is carried out. Perhaps the Nero-Wolfe-on-death-row can save a woman an ocean away in Steven Moffat’s four-part Inside Man, which premieres today on Netflix.

What does a proper English vicar like Harry Watling have to do with Grieff? They might just become fellow murderers, through an agonizingly torturous chain of events. Being truly charitable, Watling took Edgar, a disturbed young parolee, into his vicarage. Having too much sympathy, he agreed to hold Edgar’s flash drive full of adult material so his domineering mother would not find it. Not really thinking about, he took it home, where his son gave it to his math (or rather “maths” since they are British) tutor, Janice Fife. Disturbingly, the models depicted therein were decidedly not of age.

Fearing for his son’s reputation but mindful of his vows, Watling tries to explain, but the misunderstandings quickly escalate. Panic leads to further misinterpretations and before you know it, Watling has Fife locked in the cellar. So far, only journalist Lydia West suspects Fife might be missing, but they only just met in the prologue, so she can’t credibly report her missing to the police. However, she can ask the advice of her reluctant interview subject, Grieff.

The are two halves to inside man. One half features Grieff who is ruder than Cumberbatch’s Sherlock, but let’s face it, he does not have much left to lose. Since Grieff cannot have metal implements, he uses the photographic memory of fellow convicted murderer Dillon Kempton as his note-taking device. Their Holmes-and-Watson routine is jolly good fun to watch.

The other half is the incredibly manipulative and uncomfortable Job-like plague of troubles that rain down on the Watling family, who Moffat carefully establishes are good, decent folk, simply to make Grieff’s point anybody can become a murderer under the right circumstances. However, the succession of Rube Goldberg-like one-darned-things-after-another that befall the Watley family are wildly contrived, stretching believability past its breaking point. Witnessing their anguish and desperation is no fun whatsoever. Making him a vicar really feels like extra mean-spirited piling on, but admittedly, it adds further moral dimensions to dilemma.

Stanley Tucci chews the scenery marvelously as Grieff and his bantering chemistry with Atkins Estimond, as the brutish but often quite witty Kempton, is thoroughly entertaining. Dylan Baker is also terrific as Warden Casey, who is also rather droll and cleverer than you would expect for government employee.

David Tennant might be too good as Watling, because it is just painful watching him implode. On the other hand, something about both Dolly Wells as Fife and Lyndsey Marshal as Watling’s wife Mary seems off—like they constantly say and do things to raise the stakes, elevate the pressure, and further confuse the situation.

Inside Man
really should have focused on Grieff. The questions surrounding his crime, particularly his motive, are quite intriguing. Both he and Kempton are unsparingly honest about the nature of their crimes. They both agree they deserve to be there, rather than eating donuts at some “restorative justice” group therapy session. However, Grieff also believes there is a killer in everyone, which might be true, but in practice, it will be the influence of decent people like Watling started out as, that will help keep our inner beasts in check. That is the piece that is missing from the nihilistic Watling-storyline: soul, or just basic compassion.

Grieff’s caustic commentary and cerebral long-distance investigations are worthy of a more focused series, but the overwrought Watley melodrama is utterly exhausting. As it stands,
Inside Man is the most Jekyll and Hyde-like series that never adapted Robert Louis Stevenson. Not recommended unless you fast-forward through every scene that does not have Tucci in the frame, Inside Man starts streaming today (10/31) on Netflix.