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Overrated / Underrated

March 25, 2012

More and more I find myself disagreeing with film and television critics. Usually because I think they have completely overrated a production and watching it has subsequently proved to be a letdown. However, there have been a number of times when it seems that the critics haven’t done justice to a good film or television drama. I think there are a number of reasons why a potentially misleading critical consensus might grow around a work. Firstly, if several critics write one thing about a film, then another critic with a different opinion might feel obliged to give the same opinions out of fear that his opinions must be wrong. Secondly, critics might be more interested in trends rather than quality, which leads to a wave of initial enthusiasm (as with the Twilight and Girl Who films), followed by a backlash in which several critics take their revenge. To be fair, a balanced review should identify the strengths and weaknesses of any production, as lavish praise or unremitting criticism can be boorish to read (although the latter often leads to some wickedly funny reviews such as Peter Bradshaw’s take on Disney flop John Carter).

In this post I will discuss briefly a television production which I found to overrated by critics and also a film which I consider to be underappreciated. This is just my opinion and it would be hypocritical of me to try to force it on you so please feel free to disagree and give some of your own overrated / underrated examples in the comment thread.

Overrated – The Wire

The Wire was given ‘the best television series ever made’ label some years ago, but I resisted watching it for the longest time as I thought to myself that another cop drama with ghetto gangsters couldn’t possibly be original and exciting. Then I finally saw the first season and realised what all the fuss was about. Creator and writer David Simon brilliantly brings to life Baltimore’s crime-ridden streets with finely-realised characters– from drug addicts to dope pushers, violent enforcers, drug kingpins, the police who chase them and the innocent families who get caught up in the crossfire. Another eye-opener was the complex relationship between the local politicians and the Baltimore police department which more often than not leads to bureaucratic nightmares and miscarriages of justice.

However, being labelled ‘the best television show ever made’ is bound to make The Wire seem overrated, and, like all shows, it suffers from several structural problems. One is an overdependence on montages, with all five seasons ending with a montage it feels like a repetitive, crude way of telling the story. Also, ironically for a show with such a high mortality rate, the writers seemed to have a sentimental attachment for characters who have outlived their dramatic usefulness. Finally, despite its reputation for realism, there are several scenes which depict police procedure and the court system which are unrealistic and would never happen in real life, such as in season five when a lawyer, who is the live-in partner of a judge, tries a case in her court. Sometimes this can be dramatically justified, but I wonder if any other police drama would have been allowed to get away with this so easily. I would recommend Season one and four as the best seasons, with season two easily being the worst and plain boring, and three and four well worth watching.

Below is a clip from one of my favourite scenes is Season one, where the Major Crimes Unit are closing in on the Drug Kingpin Avon Barksdale:

Underrated – U-Turn

Sean Penn plays Bobby, a drifter who gets stranded in the small town of Superior, Arizona, after his car breaks down. He is on his way to Vegas to pay off a gambling debt to a mobster who has already cut off two of his fingers. But then the money he’s carrying to pay off the debt gets shredded when Bobby is caught in the middle of drugstore heist cum shootout, and he finds himself caught in the strange town with no money, no car and no way out. Directed by Oliver Stone, U-Turn received mixed reviews and was even nominated for two Golden Raspberry awards, but to me it’s one of Stone’s greatest films. It’s a film of great storytelling as Stone has no political axe to grind. He deftly mixes several genres, displays real technical flair and evokes an atmosphere which is simultaneously claustrophic and ironically sprawling, as there are a multitude of strange characters in Superior. The film is a good twenty minutes too long and it is far from flawless. However, as U-Turn has several noir elements, perhaps this is the reason I like the film so much. In film noir an evocative milieu is arguably more important than the story itself, and U-Turn, with its many memorable and bizarre moments, lingers in the memory long after viewing.

One such moment below:

One Comment leave one →
  1. Actually.... permalink
    May 11, 2012 11:31 pm

    Re: The Wire.

    You might want to go back and listen closely to the dialogue when Daniels appears in Pearlman’s court. He is there for an arraignment and she, noting familiarity with one of the representing attorneys, is recusing herself. The dialogue is layered beneath the music, but clearly, Pearlman can be heard saying she can’t handle the arraignment and that the case needs to be reassigned.

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