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Tin Star - Episode 1 reviewed

Tin Star

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

SKY Atlantic’s new thriller Tin Star opens in truly mesmerising, horrific fashion.

A family, led by Tim Roth’s sheriff Jack, is fleeing from something. Forced to pull into a run-down petrol station, they frantically fill up with fuel, only for the youngest member, their five-year-old-son, to protest about needing a wee.

Reluctantly, Jack agrees and his wife gets out of the car to administer to it. But then a masked man appears, brandishing a gun, which is pointed directly at Jack’s windscreen. It’s terrifying, particularly as seconds later the face of Jack’s moody teenage daughter Anna (Abigail Lawrie) is covered in someone’s blood.

The action then cuts back one year to the events that kick-started this violent action. Jack, a recovering alcoholic now working in the apparently idyllic town of Little Big Bear in the Rocky Mountains, would seem to have a perfectly quiet life… the kind of place where fishing is seen as a good way to pass the day given how quiet the law stuff is.

But then big business rolls in. A company named North Stream Oil begins courting the townsfolk with a view to setting up camp in their vicinity. At first, the tactics seem friendly, with chief PR lady Elizabeth Bradshaw (Christina Hendricks) doing her bit at a community fayre.

But as resistance to the oil company grows from half the town, including Jack’s own sceptical sheriff, so the darker tactics begin. Bradshaw is suddenly joined by a shady head of security named Gagnon (Christopher Heyerdahl).

A local doctor who is vociferous in her opposition to NSO is discredited and then found dead in her car, an apparent suicide. Jack, though, remains sceptical.

Fast forward a year and Jack’s home is attacked at night. First, his five-year-old finds a shaking case on the porch that, once opened, reveals a snake inside. A sniper fires a bullet through the window, while a fire is set in the basement. Jack and his family flee and, all of a sudden, we’re back in that petrol station.

Moments after that, we’re in a hospital. Jack and his daughter are covered in blood. His wife is having head surgery. His son is dead. Once Jack gets to the bathroom to start washing away the blood, he stares at himself in the mirror. The figure looking back continues to look, even when Jack ceases to. A demon has been unleashed. And what of the tattoo of the snake that occupies almost the whole of Jack’s back?

Rowan Joffe’s 10-parter started out with a lot of promise. The opening scene, in particular, gripped like a vice. It was shot through with tension. And despite having been the focal point of Sky Atlantic’s advertising campaign, the culmination of it still shocked… even more so come the final few minutes of the opening episode.

The final vision of Roth in the bathroom, a vengeful reflection looking back down over him, also set up some haunting possibilities, particularly given the nature of the show’s opening quotation – about the thin line that can exist between lawmen and villains. Is Jack about to blur his own distinction? You bet!

It remains to be seen how Joffe’s series will follow this start and how much time it will spend in the past and the present. Certainly, the main appeal would seem to lie in what follows the shooting at the petrol station: most notably, Jack’s response. In that regard, it would seem to offer the typically excellent Tim Roth a platform upon which to grandstand.

But there is that suicide/murder to clear up, as well as other characters to revisit: the townsfolk, some of whom were undoubtedly more interesting than others.

Indeed, one of the criticisms of this opening episode was that having been hooked so firmly by that opening sequence, it took a little too long to return to it. The set-up was slow in that it was neither quirky enough to offer something different (a la Fargo) or compelling enough to deliver a full ensemble cast you really feel like getting to know (again, like Fargo).

The show’s villains are a little too clear-cut, too, with the metaphors for big business too pronounced. There is very little shading at present. But perhaps the quote at the top of the episode will eventually yield more, as Roth’s Jack goes off the rails.

Joffe has previously proven to be an astute, clever writer. He penned the screenplay for 28 Weeks Later and wrote and directed the under-rated remake of Brighton Rock. Hence, while certainly flawed in places, Tin Star did enough during its opening hour to make you want to return to find out what happens next.

When it got things right, it was ferociously good TV.

Tin Star is on Sky Atlantic on Thursday nights (from September 7) at 9pm, with all 10 episodes available on Sky Boxsets and NOW TV.