Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Zen (2011)


Bit of a departure today, this is a review of the BBC series Zen, with Rufus Sewell as Italian police detective Aurelio Zen. The character is based on the novels of British crime fiction writer, Michael Dibdin. Unaware of the existence of this series, we came upon it at amazon, where it and countless other movies and TV shows are streamable free with amazon’s Prime service.

The series is set in modern-day Rome, where Sewell’s Zen is, one gathers, nearly the only resident not guilty of some crime, whether petty or capital. Merely by having a reputation for rectitude, he gets reluctantly involved by high placed government officials in cases of murder and kidnapping. And there’s always more at stake than simply solving the crime. Typically, he is being pressured to achieve results that are at complete cross purposes with each other, with his own life and career on the line no matter how things turn out.

Meanwhile, his personal life is nothing to brag about. He and his wife are separated and headed for divorce. Like the stereotypical Italian male, he lives with his mother. A leggy and stunning colleague (Caterina Marino), another casualty of marriage Italian style, has her eye on Zen. Almost diffident, he lets her make all the seductive moves.

Rufus Sewell
The series is stylish, cleverly plotted, and wonderfully written. Nothing is ever what it seems, and much of the pleasure of the storytelling is discovering just how Zen leverages his few advantages to best the higher-ups who use him for their own less than admirable purposes. Beautifully photographed, the streets of Rome are sunny, golden. The music track is mellow and jazzy.

Sewell is thoroughly entertaining as Zen, who is forever explaining when people puzzle over his name that he is from Venice. His face, always a mask of his intentions, is a play of nuanced, often ironic and quietly amused expressions. There is seldom any doubt that behind his shifting glances, there is a mind at work fully capable of cleverly devised crimes of his own, but he uses that intelligence instead to go after the criminals. Here is a sample scene:


Zen is currently available at netflix, youtube, amazon (DVD and instant video), and Barnes&Noble. For more of Tuesday’s Overlooked Movies and TV, drift on over to Todd Mason’s blog, Sweet Freedom.

Photo credit:
bbc.co.uk

Coming up: Elmore Leonard, Hombre (1961)

9 comments:

  1. hum, never heard of this one. Not an uncommon statement by me on movies, of course.

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    1. Dibdin is well known among crime fiction fans. We had not heard of the series on TV until we stumbled on it at amazon.

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  2. I managed to repeatedly miss this when it ran on PBS's MASTERPIECE MYSTERY!, in the first season (iirc) of the two anthologies being combined. Ah, well...Marino dies tend to catch they eye, indeed (I guess Sewell's pretty handsome as well, but I can't seem to keep my focus on his side of the images...)

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    1. The first three episodes are available currently on youtube.

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  3. Ron, a new television series for me too. I'll check out the three episodes on YouTube.

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  4. We enjoyed this series, too. I recommend the movie Dark City with Sewell, also. A good way to find British TV series is to look on Netflix in their foreign category. We're always finding something intriguing. The series MI-5 is very good. Nice review.

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    1. Thanks for the recommendation. Amazon Prime has an entire category devoted to streamable BBC productions, a great many of them free with the service.

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  5. Haven't seen this one, but really enjoy the longer episodes and no commercials of British TV. Thanks for the heads up!

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