Marty and Wendy Byrde are at the centre of the storytelling of Ozark.
Marty and Wendy Byrde are at the centre of the storytelling of Ozark.
Film Review

OZARK: FAMILY, CRIME AND THE MIDWEST !

Rahul Gupta

Rahul Gupta

A friend always underestimates your virtues and an enemy overestimates your faults..

Mario Puzo, The Godfather

In one of the scenes in Ozark’s season 3 episodes, Helen, the nasty lawyer for the Navarro drug cartel ‘spots’ Sue Shelby,the 75 year old therapist of the Byrde family (which launders money for the cartel) in a ‘yellow’ sports car outside their house. As it turns out the car is purchased from the ‘extra fees’ of $100k doled out by Marty Byrd who wants to score a brownie point over his wife Wendy at a therapy session. To contain this problem, the lawyer orders a brutal execution of the therapist. In essence, a 75 year old woman is murdered on ‘suspicion’ of being visible to authorities and a future liability to the business of a drug cartel. The situation is grim but it is just one of the days for the Byrde family whose ‘patriarchs’ Marty and Wendy will keep pushing the envelope to maintain stability in their lives.

Ozark is a TV show written by Bill Dubuque and Mark Williams for Netflix. The show is also produced by Media Rights Capital. It is currently in Season 3 and stars A-listers such as Jason Bateman, Laura Linney, Harris Yulin and young sensational talents of Julia Warner, Tom Pelphrey and others. The show has already grabbed close to 15 Emmy and multiple Golden Globe nominations/wins for Julia Garner and Jason Bateman for its Season 1 and 2.

The Byrde kids Jonah and Charlotte keep getting into troubles they can't handle
The Byrde kids Jonah and Charlotte keep getting into troubles they can't handle

The third season went online on Netflix on March 27. It’s streaming in India.

WHAT IS OZARK ABOUT?

Ozarks is the name of a physiographic region spanning the states of Missouri and Arkansas in the US. It is also the setting where Marty and Wendy along with their kids Jonah and Charlotte take refuge to rebuild their lives after a run in with their investors whose money Marty launders through investing in various businesses. In an unexpected turn of events, Marty’s partner and his fiancée are murdered by the Navarro drug cartel as he was caught stealing money from the investments. Marty somehow convinces Del , who is the cartel henchman, to invest money with him at Osage Beach in Missouri where he can open a casino and launder over $500 Million in 5 years. Marty then moves to Osage Beach and starts the process of setting up a new base, scouting for land with new partners and new businesses where he can invest money to launder for the cartel. As they move to the Ozarks, the Byrdes’ realise that the local people and authorities have their own set of challenges. As Marty and Wendy navigate the rough ‘weather’ and open the Casino, they encounter a host of new characters like local politicians, goons and friends. The show chronicles their trials, tribulations and how they evolve as a couple and a family.

SIMILARITIES TO BREAKING BAD

On the surface, Ozark has some striking similarities with “Breaking Bad”. They both have a family going through the perils of leading a double life of the patriarch. But in “Ozark” both Wendy and Marty are involved with the drug cartel business from the beginning and their children have also ‘made peace’ with the business despite their opposition and the given nature of the business. Both shows have menacing villains as well. Like Gustavo Fring in “Breaking Bad”, there is the Navarro cartel hitman Del who wrecks-havoc in the first episodes of Ozark. But there are some innovations in the storyline of Ozark which BB doesn’t have. “Breaking Bad” doesn’t allow the women characters in it to explore their dark side in a big way. Barring Lydia who works for Gustavo, It’s just Skylar who just helps Walter to set up the carwash business. However, in “Ozark”, the women play a pivotal role. But to put in perspective of storytelling, “Breaking Bad” has an enormous influence on “Ozark”.

The script brings havoc of a gangster drama to a quaint township in the midwestern USA
The script brings havoc of a gangster drama to a quaint township in the midwestern USA

UNDERBELLY OF THE MIDWEST AMERICA

Something which catches your eyes in “Ozark” is the Snell family which comprises Darlene and Jacob Snell who are land owners in the Casino project of Marty and Wendy. Both of them have the nonchalance of hardened criminals and who are not afraid to use their guns for even the smallest of irritations in life. In addition they are highly confrontational by nature. In Season 3, Darlene who attends a parenting group session with much younger women gets into an argument with a fellow attendee. To show her anger, she takes out her knife and deflates the car tire of the poor woman right in front of her eyes. In addition, we have the local hitman of the Navarro cartel who spring up from nowhere to organize hits on the targets. The Kansas City Mob who are also partners in the Casino project are the other ‘trigger happy’ family in the show. There are also strong references to families living in abject poverty in the area. The Langmore family of Ruth is a classic example. Lack of opportunities and education pushes them to a life of crime. Usually Hollywood shows New York as the centre of action in mobster films. “Ozark” shows the international audience about the USA which most of us haven’t seen yet

THE OZARKS SETTING AND NARRATIVE

The Lake community of Osage County adds a unique touch to the story line. The green forest cover around the lake gives an odd feeling to the build up. Almost as if the green never lets the sunlight come into the lives of the residents. But the lake and the waters are a small respite which is right in the middle of this. Most major incidents happen in the backdrop of these locations. If Albuquerque was the “westerns” desert for Breaking Bad then the lakeside look creates a unique narrative for “Ozark”.

Characters like Jacob Snell introduces the viewers to a new geography of America crime.
Characters like Jacob Snell introduces the viewers to a new geography of America crime.

ROLES OF JASON BATEMAN AND LAURA LINNEY

Jason Bateman as Marty Byrde and Laura Linney as Wendy Byrde are at the center of the narrative in “Ozark”. Both characters are nothing short of being chameleons. They are highly opportunistic and can backstab anybody whenever the need arises. But Wendy is far more savage than Marty.She orders hits on loved ones and business associates if it is needed. She is also more ambitious than her husband. To pull these multi layered characters, the actors had to be stoic. Bateman as the mild mannered, master survivor and carrot peddler is superb. He executes this role with ease and can be mistaken for weak. But Bateman brings a lot of intensity to the role of Marty. Laura Linney is clearly the star of this show with her masterful portrayal of a power-hungry woman with minimal sanity left in her. Barring the fact that she is highly protective of her children, Wendy Byrd has done it all. She cheated on her husband, she ordered kills on liabilities, she threatens all her associates and she wants more action in every season. But then she wants to show her remorse and guilt as well! This is the most important character in “Ozarks” followed closely by Marty.

PERFORMANCES OF OZARK

The show has possibly one of the finest ensembles ever created for Television. Julia Garner as the feisty and unstable Ruth Langmore has already received global acclaim for her performance. Janet McTeer as Helen also is very engaging. But the find of the new season has to be Tom Pelphrey who plays Ben, Wendy’s psychologically challenged brother. He plays a bi-polar to perfection. Veteran Harris Yulin who plays the dying Buddy and the former home owner of the Byrdes home is superb. Honorable mentions include Lisa Emery as the crazed Darlene Snell and the Byrde kids played by Sofia Hublitz and Skylar Guertner.

FINAL VERDICT

I would give Ozark Season 1,2,3 a cumulative 7 of 10. This is purely for the masterful writing, direction of Jason Bateman, superlative performances and tight storytelling. Ozark moves very fast from one point to the other and doesn’t waste any time for the viewer. This has to be on your Quarantine watchlist.

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