‘Collateral’ on Netflix Falters Under Its Own Weight

In an examination of country, Collateral falters under its own weight.


What kind of country do you want yours to be: one of acceptance or refusal? It’s never that cut and dry, black and white.

It’s that kind of question, along with a myriad of others, that Collateral on Netflix repeatedly asks. Written by David Hare and directed by S.J. Clarkson, Collateral (not to be confused with this Collateral, by the way), stars Carey Mulligan and Nathaniel Martello-White as London detectives on the case of a murdered pizza-delivery man, who just happens to be an immigrant from Syria. Is it a random shooting? How would anyone know which delivery guy would be there that night? A lot of these pieces soon fall into place and the series veers from its standard investigation procedural to a look into immigration, refugees, and the politics behind it all.

Collateral admirably tries to juggle heavy issues that are interconnected in real life as much as they are in the show: homosexuality in a religious context, immigration in a country rich enough to accept them, societal structures and the strains they create on individuals, the party system within democratic governments, male patriarchy in a modern context, and the privileges of (mostly white) citizenry. Sadly, the series doesn’t deftly handle any of them. (Also, if that list sounded a lot like The Wire to you, then I’m glad I’m not alone.)

While Collateral is never awkward in its attempt to analyze these interlocking systems, it’s mainly a slog to get to its many points. The episodes — and there are only four — are only an hour long, but they feel much longer. The characters do a lot of talking, which is expected in a mystery of this sort, but its in the limited character action where the most is revealed. Take Captain Sandrine Shaw, a veteran of Afghanistan and well played by Jenny Spark. The look in her eyes as she fires into a target on base without missing says much more about her than her long, slow talk with her mother in a posh restaurant in a later episode.

That’s not to say the show doesn’t have a lot going for it; it does. The editing and directing are as fantastic as anything else on television. Several of the shots of characters, blurred and taking up little of the frame, tells a story in just a flicker of time. Carey Mulligan puts on one of her best performances (the rest of the cast is equally up to the task), and it’s nice to see her get more screen time in the final episode. A focus on her could’ve propelled other parts of the series into more than it ended up being.

With so much weight and so many problems to try to balance, Collateral, while commendable in its questions, is just too much of a chore to think through.

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