Netflix's newbie Bloodline - 'might work better as a binge-watch, but I’ve not got the appetite just yet to gorge myself'
The prodigal son has long been a favourite motif in American literature and films, from John Steinbeck’s East of Eden to Bob Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces, starring a magnificent Jack Nicholson as a seemingly rootless drifter who is, in fact, a former piano prodigy and the rebellious son of a wealthy family.
The theme gets a familiar, maybe too familiar, workout in Bloodline, all 13 episodes of which arrived on Netflix on Friday. No musical geniuses here, mind you, just the wayward, hard-living Danny Rayburn (Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn, looking impressively raddled), who returns to the bosom of his family to find a welcome as cold as the Florida Keys location is hot.
The occasion is a big weekend get-together to celebrate the naming of a pier in honour of his well-to-do parents, played by Sissy Spacek and Sam Shepard (we’re talking one serious powerhouse of a cast here), who are hotel owners and pillars of the community.
Danny, the eldest of four siblings, is very much the black sheep. His brothers, John (Kyle Chandler from Friday Night Lights), who’s the local sheriff, and the hot-headed Kevin (Norbert Leo Butz) have, at least to outward appearances, nice, steady lives and nice, steady wives, while their only sister Meg (Linda Cardellini) is a successful lawyer.
Danny, who only ever turns up when he’s in trouble with the law or needs money, says he wants to stay for good this time. The trouble is nobody other than his doting, all-forgiving mother seems to want him around.
There are flashbacks and flash forwards, hinting at dark things in the past – dad, for instance, seems to have been a violent bully – and even darker things to come.
The happy- family image of the Rayburns is a sham. John, doubtless, has a few skeletons of his own in the cupboard, while Kevin and his wife have been keeping the fact that they’re living apart to protect his mother’s feelings.
As if there’s not enough rifts opening up already, the naked and mutilated body of a 16-year-old Hispanic girl turns up in a swamp – a crime toward which Sheriff John, at least initially, displays a strange lack of curiosity.
I watched the first two episodes of Bloodline. To say it takes its time setting things up would be an understatement. The pace of the opening hour is glacial. That’s not necessarily a drawback if a drama eventually delivers a payoff – and it does, with the kind of closing-scene whammy that makes you want to dive straight into the next instalment immediately.
Unfortunately, everything grinds to a standstill in episode two, which gets bogged down in interminable, repetitive dialogue. I almost ran out of fingers trying to count to the number of times someone tells the tedious Kevin to calm down and cool off.
Maybe Bloodline will work better as a binge-watch, but I’ve not got the appetite just yet to gorge myself on it.