HBO Max’s “DMZ” keeps you in a state of wanting more. In this era of episodic cliffhangers designed to fuel binge eating frenzy, it might seem like an endorsement. Not exactly.
Nor is it a permanent dismissal, otherwise a person would not be frustrated enough to think about what could have been. What we have in this limited series is the realization of what could be a weighted fairytale of long-term conflict over those who do not have the means to escape or who simply refuse to be hunted.
The story itself – of a self-governing and demilitarized section of Manhattan isolated and abandoned in the midst of the Second American Civil War – has obvious relevance right now, when much of the global stability we once took for granted seems like it could disintegrate into a lightning. The title is designed to elicit visions of such no-man’s lands, imaginary or real. His premise, of an America torn apart by rebel militias from Midwestern states, strikes a little closer these days.
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In this reality and in the speculative version of the tale, the corruption of patriarchal rule is inevitable, part of a relentless cycle of dominating others by taking control of wealth.
But it took Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli six years, three months and 72 issues of the Wood’s Vertigo comic series to build this world. “DMZ” showrunner Roberto Patino was given four hours to tell a story that takes at least twice as long, ensuring a lack of narrative.
However, it is difficult to determine whether the problem is inadequate time or time management. What is certain and obvious is how fast it all ends, with the characters jumping great chasms where the corrective blocks of relationship development should be. When the main hero escapes a stranger, no one knows a messianic hope within two episodes for no reason that seems natural or sensible, believing that virtually everything that happens next becomes impossible. The exception would be if the circumstances are too noisy or explosive to take for granted. “DMZ” favors drama and solemnity.
At least that part works. Patino makes some clever changes from Wood’s original story, like making the protagonist a woman and a doctor named Alma instead of yet another heroic male journalist. As Alma, Rosario Dawson channels a stony determination into her character’s anguished search for her boyfriend.
Nearly a decade before the events of “DMZ”, New York City came under attack after the secessionist Free States army turned against the US government. The spectacle itself does not clearly establish it, among other things, that it is his first mistake, and above all striking, as if he were confident that the reasons for this dystopia that was born matter less than hell itself.
The flip side is that the DMZ’s reputation in what’s left of the United States, a crumb of which it is presented as a dimly lit greyscale industrial wasteland, is in many ways worse than its reality. And this comes as a surprise to Alma, who lost her teenage son Christian in the attack and ended up in the United States without him.
Eight years later, she is determined to return to the DMZ’s alleged underworld to find him – and her first clue that her US saviors may not have been entirely honest about this place that is home to “people at their worst” is the thundering, jubilant walls. clothed in art and what looks like a neighborhood party with people dancing and sharing food.
Dawson excels in physically demanding action roles, and that part of his repertoire comes into play here despite the series preferring to evoke danger through tension and measured outbursts of violence.
Benjamin Bratt in “DMZ” (Richard DuCree / HBO MAX)She is the best in a show that boasts an impressive cast, including Benjamin Bratt, Freddy Miyares, Alano Miller, Nora Dunn, Rutina Wesley and Hoon Lee. Executive producer Ava DuVernay establishes a crisp, color-saturated cinematic style in the first episode, which she directs and which fellow director Ernest Dickerson continues for the rest of the series.
Together they conscientiously make the DMZ a place where its inhabitants prioritize vibrant creativity as part of their survival, even in its most dangerous colors. The sheer exuberance of the wild and overgrown landscape, flashy reds and touches of blue speak of heterogeneous ingenuity, warmth and community in a time of scarcity.
This is in line with each director’s best backstories, most notably DuVernay’s “When They See Us” (where he previously worked with Miyares), where they present an insider’s view of the communities most whites fear. to enter but is ready to denigrate. Alma’s first discovery about this supposed death pit is that people still care for each other.
Yet the danger is real. The New York that the rest of the fractured country has left behind is less a democracy than a territory divided into tribal fiefdoms run by an assortment of trigger-happy warlords and predatory assassins like Skel (Miyares) with two men, Park (Bratt ) and Wilson (Lee), vying for governor. Alma seems to have a personal connection with each one she leverages in hopes of locating her son. But her eight-year absence of hers makes her a stranger to them and to everyone else, even to her family.
People who know and love their post-apocalyptic B-movies will recognize the nuances of “Escape from New York” and “The Warriors” in “DMZ”. This is not necessarily to his detriment, other than the complete absence of the camp. But history also resists the urge to portray this place as a meat grinder. This makes it quite watchable despite the clunky execution of the second, third and fourth episodes.
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But in the same way that “Station Eleven” supports our innate need to sustain joy at the worst of times, the parts of “DMZ” that work best are the moments when secondary characters like Jordan’s shrewd sweeper Preston Carter Odi extend the story. kindness to those less fortunate than them. This is part of the larger exploration in the series about marginalized people creating a kingdom with leftovers.
Patino enjoys playing tropes, including Wilson’s tactic of surrounding himself with female bodyguards like a 1990s Hong Kong action movie boss. It’s a silly move that plays into a popular stereotype, which Wilson recognizes in a way that only Lee could accomplish.
Hoon Lee in “DMZ” (Eli Joshua Ade / HBO MAX)“DMZ” offers yet another opportunity to appreciate how versatile and underused he is as an actor, especially when he goes toe-to-toe with Bratt’s gold-dripped kingpin and leather. As Parco, Bratt harnesses his charisma as a protagonist in the same way that a killer might hide a blade in the sleeve of a shirt. His malevolence is evident, but Bratt makes it easy to see why Parco voters are drawn to him. As skillfully as he does it, Lee makes his opponent even more deceptively reasonable.
All of these are virtues that turn into problems once it becomes apparent that Patino doesn’t have the space to thoughtfully add humanizing dimensions to these characters or write fortifying layers in their mutual relationships. The actors stretch powerfully into their performances to sell the many plot holes that “DMZ” forces us to ignore as we travel with Alma. Other details, including the ticking of time in the first episode, serve no real purpose.
Whether the heartwarming performances and overwhelming visuals are enough to carry viewers through its incoherent flow is hard to say. Likewise, who knows if Patino would have satisfactorily filled in the gaps by showing his plot incompleteness with extra hours? What we can see is that “DMZ” delivers incredible performance while asking us to ignore some huge flaws, trusting that an outstanding cast and timely premise are enough to make up for the messy, hole-in-the-wall landscape that asks us to travel with Alma.
All episodes of “DMZ” are currently streaming on HBO Max. Watch a trailer below, via YouTube.
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