Culprits review: Disney Plus heist series doesn't quite get the job done
But regardless, viewers will have a lot of fun with this one.
"Be you," says Joe Petras (Misfits' Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) to his step-kids in the opening few minutes of Disney Plus thriller Culprits as he drops them off at school, their adorable grins bringing a smile to his face.
Aww! So sweet!
But Joe doesn't practice what he preaches.
A few minutes on from that wholesome moment, we're taken back three years – the timeline cycles between 'before', 'then' and 'now' – where we see David, as he was then known, working in London as a private security detail for a shady businessman who has just walked into a hostile takeover.
They're outnumbered, their days surely numbered, but David is a man with a very particular set of skills, and he engineers their escape without tearing his suit or breaking a sweat, an impressive display which catches the eye of Dianne Harewood (Rogue Agent's Gemma Arterton), an uber wealthy, glamorous individual who's feared and revered in the world of organised crime.
Dianne is assembling a crew for the biggest job she or any of her chosen few have ever undertaken. It's a one-and-done heist that will set them up for life, complete with new identities, hence Joe Petras.
She wants David to be the 'muscle' alongside a handful of others, all of whom have their own very particular set of skills, from safe-cracking to explosives.
But three years on, his new life in Washington State with his fiancé and kids is on the verge of imploding. An assassin, who goes by the name 'Devil' (played brilliantly by Peaky Blinders' Ned Dennehy, who leans fully into the unnerving horror of his character), is working his way through the crew in unforgiving fashion – will he slit your throat or set you on fire? Who knows! – and he won't stop until they're all firmly in the ground, or a charred husk on top of it.
But those brutal, graphic moments are only used sparingly, ensuring maximum impact.
The eight-parter comes from J Blakeson, who also wrote Prime Video's I Care A Lot starring Rosamund Pike, another story that deals in the theme of duplicity. Tonally, the two titles also share some DNA, with humour employed in particularly uncomfortable moments to leave you feeling off-kilter. But here, it doesn't always work.
One such example is when Eddie Izzard's character (Stay Close) is first introduced. To preserve your intrigue, I won't go into any detail, but it should have been a moment, and instead I was left asking: is that it?
That's less to do with Izzard's performance, however, and more an issue with the dialogue she was given, which can lack bite.
While suspending disbelief is a prerequisite of the heist genre, there are also some details here and there that irk, such as a VIP being escorted to a bathroom by their security detail, but said bathroom not being scoped out beforehand as it surely would be, leading to a hairy encounter.
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When it comes to good writing, it's the little things that make all the difference.
The mystery surrounding Dianne's motivations for the heist also lack originality. After a strong start, with the series immediately drawing you in and holding you there, the final couple of episodes fall flat.
But there is much to enjoy about Culprits, with Stewart-Jarrett's performance as David a particular highlight. He's the beating heart of this story, as he desperately scrambles to protect his family from the impending hellfire that is 'Devil' - another highlight - and in his more emotional, tender scenes, he shines.
His relationship with his husband-to-be Jules (Workin' Moms' Kevin Vidal) also isn't a dynamic typically explored on the small screen, and is interesting in and of itself.
There's also Niamh Algar's character 'Specialist' (Malpractice), also known as 'Psycho', who was brought onto the heist for "being able to kill people in a very quick and un-messy way", and she will keep you thoroughly entertained throughout.
While David and Dianne are the only crew members we really know anything substantial about, which might leave some viewers frustrated, there are a smattering of small moments that peel back the curtain slightly, and for 'Specialist', there's an encounter with a deer in a snowy Norwegian forest clearing that might surprise you.
But above all else, Blakeson knows when to hold the trigger and when to release, delivering a number of well-timed, nerve-shredding moments throughout, a quality that makes Culprits perfect for communal viewing.
While it won't sweep the board during awards season, it's an entertaining, cinematic series that earns its spot on your watch list.
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