Hard-Boiled and Scrambled

Harry Anglesea is just your average middle-aged Samoan police detective who just happened to go insane, ended up in the cracker factory and now is back on the force. And that’s merely matter-of-fact background information – a preamble to the engrossing 2013 neo-noir New Zealand mini-series HARRY, now on Blu-Ray from Acorn Media/RJL Entertainment.

Harry, as portrayed by the extraordinary actor Oscar Kightley (who also co-wrote the six-part drama), is old school in a neon post-Millennium social media world. And by old school, I mean in the weary alcoholic (and pill-popping) Lee Marvin/Robert Ryan/Robert Mitchum tradition (indeed, when he hears a parent of a psycho killer blather on, you can see his eyes conveying, “Lady, I just don’t have the time.”).

Because Harry is a recovering head-case, he’s under scrutiny from his peers, all of them negligible with the exception of his immediate superior officer (Sam Neill), who seems to be the only top echelon high-ranker with any in-the-field experience.

Harry’s first case is a doozy. A series of gang-led slaughter raids on banks and shops, leaving a cartload of innocent corpses. The raids are the mastermind of Chocka Fahey one of the most vicious maniacs ever to step before a camera (a thoroughly despicable Erroll Shand). He drugs the local teen Samoans, addicts them, arms them and sets them loose. Pure human collateral damage. Fahey answers to a higher power (Paul Gittins) who, in turn, is in cahoots with international foreign crime cartels. So it’s big stuff in that real-life bloodbath video game way.

Granted, on the surface, the narrative may not appear to be the most original (that said, the story is based upon an actual incident), but the way it’s presented definitely is. The tight, nasty script (co-written by the dual-hat-wearing Kightley with codirector Christopher Dudman and the appropriately named Neil Grimstone) is a no-holds barred verbal barrage of raw emotion. You know, ripping the mask off society and watching it bleed (I guess what I’m getting it is that fans of New Girl are wise to seek entertainment elsewhere). And the direction of Dudman and Peter Burger perfectly parallels the twisty and twisted scenario.

Harry’s problems aren’t merely in his brain or at the office. They spill over at home, in buckets. The reason for his breakdown wasn’t the job. It was his wife’s suicide (which was because of the job). Suicidal tendencies don’t only run in the family, they apparently gallop. Harry’s intuitive and super-intelligent teenage daughter (Hunter Kamuhemu) is quietly exploring the pros of ending it all. Harry’s mother (Ana Tuigamala) has moved in to watch over her son and grandchild and is basically doing a lousy job. The detective’s respite comprises the leisure activity of drinking himself into incoherency throughout the city’s approximately nine million bars. Here, he occasionally gives a liberal lead to his violent nature – like pummeling an abusive thug into near-death. This reflects his on-the-job training as well in regards to apprehending alleged suspects.

Thus, in no time at all, Harry is under investigation by the New Zealand equivalent of Internal Affairs. This is rather unfortunate, since the powers-that-be who aren’t corrupt are simply stupid. Even Harry’s team isn’t above ratting him out to save their skins. And, truth be told, Harry’s explosions into violence can’t be judged in black or white, as they’re concurrently justified yet revolting.

Harry’s concession to the force is his mandated sessions with a special shrink (Theresa Healey). There are some truly delightful moments when the grizzled veteran, after listening to the beauteous therapist patronizingly analyze his behavioral patterns (“It’s completely normal to feel angry…”), tells her, in no uncertain terms, to shove it.

Of course, all of these annoying interruptions are getting in the way of the growing crime wave, encompassing the drug deal of the century. And Harry has to make some often quick and difficult decisions. While a few go dreadfully wrong, enough are on the money – leading to the action-packed and suspenseful climax. The unsettling conclusion to Harry’s odyssey suggests a slow return to sanity while the rest of the country (via their judicial system) is quietly going off the rail. Ya can’t win.

The six episodes themselves (This is Personal; He’s Very Important, This Boy; He’s the Weak Link; Play with Fire; You Lied to Me; God Bless Brutus) provide a fascinating insight into the societal culture (tatts, Anglo assimilation, the spiritual vs. instinctive) of modern New Zealand. Personally, I was enthralled, and a bit disturbed. For years, I had fallen under the bogus travelogue spell that all of New Zealand was a picture-postcard paradise. Damn, if HARRY‘s New Zealand (mostly filmed in Auckland) doesn’t make the South Bronx look like a 5-star Alpen holiday resort.

The two-disc Blu-Ray of HARRY provides an excellent workout for your home video system. The gritty day and night photography (by D.J. Stipsen) is in-your-face gritty and the 2.0 stereo-surround will have you enveloped in a cacophony of cray-cray.

The amazing thing about HARRY is that it manages to never be depressing; in fact, it’s rarely not continuously exciting and gripping. If you love crime shows, yet yearn for something decidedly different, you’ve come to the right place.

Ultimately, HARRY‘s motto is that you don’t have to be a fucking lunatic to work for the New Zealand police. But it certainly helps.

HARRY.  Color.  Widescreen [1.78:1 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HA MA. Acorn Media/ RLJ Entertainment.  CAT # AMP-2429.  SRP:  $39.99.


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