Chew's Reviews - River, A Netflix Miniseries

By Gary Chew | December 31, 2015 |

John River (Stellan Skarsgard) is much like Haley Joel Osment's character in The Sixth Sense. River also sees and talks to dead people. But he's a contemporary, middle-aged inspector detective for the Metropolitan Police in East London.

River is a six-part miniseries from across the pond that found its way to Netflix this fall. I just recently got headzupped about it, and took three consecutive evenings to watch a pair each night, even though I'm plumb “police procedural'd” out with the constant parade of that genre always on American TV and in feature films. (I can't wait for CBS to premiere NCIS: Dubuque.)

After the first two episodes, I was about to bail on River, but disciplined myself to watch the next two episodes, then decide. Sure glad I did. Now I want to go back and see them again, but I know how all of it turns out: that's really a big part of this almost all Skarsgard series. I think he's in every scene.

The story opens with River's partner in policing being shot dead in the middle of a street just as the two have left a Chinese restaurant. You'll see “the video” of that tragic moment over and over as River and a full department of colleagues clamor to find Stevie's killer. Stevie is her name. She's played totally unforgettably by Nicola Walker. Yes, Stevie is in all episodes because River talks with her almost all of the time ... since she's dead. (It takes a few scenes for that to become obvious.)

River doesn't talk much to other living people around him, however. He's a loner, and not inclined to throw his lot with others, whoever they are. Eventually, you learn that John was nearly abandoned by his mother and left for raising with his grandmother.

Other persons or manifests not there and now deceased chat it up with River. Thomas Cream, aka The Lambeth Poisoner (Eddie Marsan), was a vicious serial killer River helped to apprehend. He represents a reflection of what's ugly and hateful in River and always wants to confuse and torment the detective. Other manifests in the story try to help River solve cases and his personal problems. Stevie is but one.

To twist the story tighter, the relationship between John and Stevie is opaque; it's difficult to know how River genuinely feels about her, or if he can feel anything for Stevie ... or anyone else. Then there's the issue of what Stevie had been up to in the days just prior to her death. Who is or was the authentic Ms. Stevie? What are or were her real emotions for River? It's been strictly by-the-book-professional on or off duty behavior between them … no hanky-panky. Yet their loyalty runs or ran deep.

Two other significant female characters, both alive and not just in River's head, are played extremely well. Rosa Fallows, the police psychologist (Georgina Rich) seems to be the most helpful character for River. He's ordered by superiors to be tested by Rosa to be sure of his stability to continue working on Stevie's case. River's immediate boss is Chrisse Read (Lesley Manville), She gives River hell for his actions and wants him off the case, but she and her husband, a judge, are good friends with River.

The Welsh-born writer, Abi Morgan has solidly packed her moving script with strong, interesting women. Morgan also wrote the screenplay for the recent feature film Suffragette with Carey Mulligan.

Stellan Skarsgard is damn near magnificent in the title role. Since seeing River, I'm thinking I should go back and see earlier movies of his I missed. And I must tell you that you will not forget how the final episode of River ends. It very much has a woman's touch.

Copyright © 2015 by Gary Chew. All rights reserved.

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