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Date Posted: 05:28:48 01/31/06 Tue
Itâs going to be hard to tell you about Conviction â an excellent British cop drama airing in six parts on BBC America â without giving away a major piece of its dramatic engine, a horrific scene that occurs near the end of the first episode. But I can safely mention that writer Bill Gallagher shines a stark spotlight on the emotional ramifications of policework experienced by the people doing the investigating â what the pressure of a job built on a perceived duty toward eternal vigilance does to the souls of ordinary, flawed men and women. A viewerâs anxiety while watching Conviction doesnât necessarily spring from a murderer on the loose, but from the decisions made by those tracking down the culprit. In that respect, it feels like a spiritual descendant of the popularPrime Suspect, but even more so the fantastic U.K. crime series Cracker, which starred Robbie Coltrane as a police psychologist whose all-consuming appetite for the weakness of criminals was matched only by a tornado-like disposition toward his own fractured personal life.
Conviction focuses on a homicide team sent to investigate the multiple-knifing death of a 12-year-old girl whose body is found in a public-housing playground. The slaying galvanizes the community, and as weâre introduced to the detectives entrusted to find the killer, we get more than the standard brush-stroke personalities of most police shows. Ray (Nicholas Gleaves) and Chrissie (William Ash) are brothers with not a little sibling rivalry, sparked by older brother Rayâs having recently been made department head. They and their defense attorney sister Beth (Zoe Henry) are not only on opposite sides of the case â she represents a stammering local pervert named Jason Buliegh (Jason Watkins), who is the investigationâs initial focus â but outside of work they must agree on how to deal with their retired cop father Lenny (David Warner), a once bullish lawman of the beat-the-confession-out-of-them variety who is now suffering from Alzheimerâs.
A key theme in the series is the difference in policing methods between generations. Raven-haired Lucy (Laura Fraser) is intelligent but plagued by doubts about her abilities, and is carrying on an affair with an informant, while her middle-aged partner Robert (Reece Dinsdale) has arrived at an almost Zen-like attitude toward crime-solving, at one point reacting to a detaineeâs violent head butt with an unsettling calm: âI pushed too far,â he acknowledges. The showâs most explicit dichotomy, however, is the pairing of Chrissie, who is the young, soft, brooding type â fueled by empathy â with hotheaded veteran Joe (Ian Puleston-Davies), a dedicated family man who doesnât pass up the chance at his own spirited anniversary party to ball-squeeze his teenage daughterâs boyfriend as a warning gesture. It seems Joe has never gotten over the death of a young girl at the hands of someone he once had in custody, and it eventually leads him to disturbingly blur the line between justice and vengeance. When Chrissie gets caught up in Joeâs private hell, Conviction escalates into something legitimately Dostoyevskian in how it picks away at its charactersâ consciences. Adding immeasurably to the tension is a restless â but not Dramamine-restless â camera style from directors Marc Munden and David Richards that feels like a marriage between the handheld urgency of a Law and Order and the psychologically based, time-fragmented editing of an indie film.
The acting is across-the-board wonderful, with Puleston-Davies in particular tapping into an unpredictable explosiveness that makes NYPD Blueâs Andy Sipowicz seem like a schoolyard bully. Special mention, though, must be made of that venerable ghoul David Warner, who ferociously presents Alzheimerâs as the justifiably scary condition it is, the shape-shifter of diseases that can make somebody familiar and alien at the same time. Eschewing the sentimentality one might expect from an earnest TV movie on the subject, Warner understands that you canât identify with Lenny â brilliantly hinting, also, in some of his more lucid moments that you wouldnât have been too crazy about him when his mind wasnât ravaged â so he gives in to the childishness of his rages, the banality of his docile moments, and the maddening vagueness of his more shocking secret-spilling utterances. Warner makes Lenny into a brutal, almost unforgiving metaphor, a glimpse into the potential future of the morally teetering policemen at the storyâs center: How many will tragically wind up unable to make sense of their world?
CONVICTION | BBC America | Mondays, 10 p.m.; reruns Tuesdays, 1 a.m.
LA Weekly Robert Abele
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