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Review: Kate Winslet anchors riveting HBO detective drama 'Mare of Easttown'

Courtesy of HBO


A small Pennsylvania town gets rocked in HBO’s riveting new detective drama “Mare of Easttown” which sees Oscar winner Kate Winslet transform into the troubled police detective everyone knows by name. She plays the titular Mare – once the crown jewel of her high school, nicknamed Miss Lady Hawk after scoring an impossible game winning shot – a depressed curmudgeon who can’t shake the burdens of her past that now seemingly define the future. Most evenings are spent guzzling Rolling Rocks and taking care of her four-year old grandson, Drew (Izzy King) of which she’s the guardian following the suicide of her drug-addicted son. Others are spent responding to miscellaneous disturbances like perverts and drug addicts. Not exactly the pristine rural lifestyle one hopes to acquire, but Mare, depending on who you ask, is either a beacon of hope or omen for the community.

Demons have come back to haunt Mare when the town finds itself at the center of another tragic and brutal murder, this time a 17-year old in the woods. The wounds of an unsolved missing person’s case from a year prior are still fresh and the limelight is on Mare who is asked for answers she doesn’t have. Created and written by Brad Ingelsby, a screenwriter who understands the dynamic of comeback narratives thanks to “The Way Back” and the inner workings of small-town chaos (“Out of the Furnace”) the five episodes provided in advance for critics paint a clear, though sometimes convoluted, picture of a community that has plenty of rowdy characters with something to hide. Each episode ends with their own convenient red herring guaranteed to lure audiences back on a weekly basis, though “Easttown” lacks the type of “must-see” status of HBO’s previous rating behemoth “The Undoing,” but the real meat and potatoes comes from the character study of Mare and Winslet is the perfect driver for this topsy-turvy limited series.

Bursting with emotional anguish and an onslaught of pain, Winslet channels a wide array of personality traits. Not only is Mare inherently depressed about her work – nor has she grieved the loss of her child – but she gets it from all angles at home. Living with her candid and filter-less mother (a wonderful Jean Smart) and angsty teenager daughter Siobhan (Angourie Rice) doesn’t help and, to add insult to injury, her ex-husband, Frank (David Denman) is getting remarried and has purchased a home directly behind her house. Anyone who’s ever lived in a small town will immediately know the feeling.

All these elements contribute to Mare’s overall uneasiness, and with the community on edge – plus a mother screaming for results – local Police Chief (John Douglas Thompson) brings in Detective Colin Zabel (Evan Peters, finally shedding the Ryan Murphy and superhero spandex for a meaty sleuth role), a hot-shot, young private investigator who cracked a major cold case in a nearby town. Naturally, the two don’t click at first and Mare loves to give the cold shoulder, but the familiar buddy-cop mechanics slowly manifest the deeper their case begins to unravel.

All seven episodes were directed by Craig Zobel, who’s last film “The Hunt” didn’t connect with audiences, and “Easttown” marks a solid career rebound. Beautifully shot with a terrific ensemble, including Cailee Spaeny, Julianne Nicholson, and Guy Pearce, Zobel utilizes all the tools at his disposal to craft a delicate examination on grief, delivering one of the best detective dramas in recent memory. “Mare of Easttown” isn’t the feel-good show of the spring season, and is dark, dirty, and depressing, but its soulfulness offers an unmistakable sentiment of hope that’s hard to combat.

Grade: A-

MARE OF EASTTOWN debuts on HBO and HBO Max Sunday, April 18th with subsequent episodes airing each week.

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