The talented actor is Breaking Bad again as Judge Michael Desiato, who will go to any lengths to protect his son
Some actors will never completely escape the part that changed their lives, even if it doesn’t define or typecast them.
Nobody could ever accuse Anthony Hopkins, for instance, of struggling to cast off Hannibal Lecter. And yet, somewhere in the corner of our minds, he’ll always be the cultured, cannibalistic serial killer who ate a census taker’s liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti — slurp, slurp, slurp.
To be fair to Hopkins, he seems entirely comfortable with this. The same goes for Bryan Cranston and his most famous character, Breaking Bad’s Walter White, the dispirited high-school chemistry teacher who becomes a crystal meth kingpin and discovers dark, thrilling depths of depravity inside himself that he never knew existed.
Cranston had already created one memorable television character, the hilariously immature husband and father, Hal, in Malcolm in the Middle, but Walter White marked a career handbrake turn that catapulted him to international stardom.
Post-Breaking Bad, he’s flourished, playing a wide variety of characters without ever looking like he’s trying too hard to put Walter White far behind him. He won a Tony Award for playing Lyndon B Johnson in All the Way and repeated his performance in the HBO film of the same name.
He won a second Tony for playing Howard Beale, the anchorman who becomes a mad prophet, in an adaptation of the 1976 movie Network, and received an Oscar nomination for his performance as blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo in Trumbo.
Clearly, Cranston doesn’t have to fight for roles that will allow him to prove his dramatic range. This makes it all the more odd to see him starring in something that feels as familiar as Your Honor, a miniseries from British writer-producer Peter Moffat, who wrote the BBC’s Criminal Justice, which was adapted in the US into HBO series The Night Of, a rare instance of a remake that was better than the original.
Cranston is a player now, a producer-star with the power to pick and choose his projects. You really have to wonder why he picked this, which once again casts him as an apparently upstanding man who, when compelled to protect his family, slides ever deeper into deceit and corruption.
He plays New Orleans judge Michael Desiato, who’s widowed and shares a house, as well as a touchingly close bond, with his asthmatic teenage son Adam (Hunter Doohan).
Desiato’s unimpeachable decency and commitment to justice is displayed early on, when we see him stepping outside the remit of his job to find his own proof that a lying cop is trying to pin a bogus drugs charge on a poor, Black single mother.
On the same sunny morning this is happening, Adam loses his bearings while trying drive his old Volvo out of a dangerous neighbourhood and suffers an asthma attack.
While straining to reach his inhaler after it falls onto the floor of the car, he takes his eyes off the road for a second and ploughs head-on into a young motorcyclist. It’s a horribly powerful scene, but also needlessly grotesque.
Before panicking and fleeing the scene, Adam, who’s struggling to breathe, literally sucks the last breath from the dying boy’s mouth. Then a dog ambles over and starts lapping at the blood that’s pooled around the dead boy’s head.
When Adam gets home and explains to his father what’s happened, Desiato tells him he’ll have to do the decent thing — but of course — and confess all to the police. The good judge quickly has a sudden change of mind, however, when he learns that the boy Adam killed is none other than the son of one Jimmy Baxter (Michael Stuhlbarg), the boss of the city’s most vicious criminal gang, who’ll do anything to find whoever is responsible for his boy’s death.
Inevitably, we can expect Judge Desiato to do anything to prevent that happening.
There are 10 episodes of Your Honor, all available on demand.
After this frequently clunky opener, it’s difficult to see any surprises down the line. Think of it as Breaking Bad, only not half as good.