What else can you say in a new series about “crimes” when so much has been said, in so many ways, in all possible movies and series? The answer is a trivial one and, at the same time, difficult to procure: you can simply tell the truth. The truth is that there are no immaculate cops who are sick of physical (or even mental) health and that there are no perfect crimes just as there are no perfect case solutions. The world is full of NUPs, missing persons and hidden tragedies, where seemingly good people are somehow forced to live with their seemingly bad fellows, in a tangled mix of personal or collective relationships and traumas. Such an honest answer is offered, for example, by the mini-series “Crime from Easttown”, available in Romania on HBO GO, starring Kate Winslet.
A female detective (Mare), from a small town in Pennsylvania (Easttown), is investigating a murder while her life seems to be falling apart.
Most crime movies and series sin from the start by distributing the center of gravity of the narrative to the detective’s work and his efforts to decipher the mystery. The victim is reduced to a prop, a propitious planted in the middle of the setting with the sole driving role of the action.
In such cases, the camera’s attention goes to unraveling the mystery: what matters is no longer the victim – reduced to a collection of photos crammed into a corner of the library – or the trauma of his family and loved ones. The plot of the story revolves only around the hero and his path to finding out the truth. Such an approach risks leading the story to the dead end full of cinematic clichés, in which the viewer is served popcorn with policemen who drink cold coffee in cars and who, for the sake of keeping the suspense, lose their record in the last minutes of the film.
The English title of the series (“Sea of Easttown”), although it seems rather opaque (“Sea of Easttown” would sound, word for word, the mismatched translation), is perhaps more faithful in terms of revealing the true thread narrative of the story. In fact, the series is about Mare’s life story and how her chaotic family (truth: all the families in the world are chaotic, there is no perfect family) and the dramas of the past are unhappily intertwined with a drama of the present (crime).
What’s more important? The story of the crime or the victim? Or the detective’s?
The screenwriter Brad Ingelsby and the director Craig Zobel manage, at the same time, to insist equally on the other main characters, to whom they create enough psychological depth.
The sets, the characters, the dialogues look as “real” as possible. And this kind of dull realism, devoid of strident musical effects and accents, is, in itself, an extremely well-rendered effect in images.
The viewer even has time to “know” the victim, to empathize with her and even to forget, at some point, that the title foretells a crime, as inevitable as it is tragic.
We are not talking about a strong debut, with policemen waking up in the middle of the night to reach an address where we see a figure drawn with chalk on the carpet. The story has its own rhythm, rather a slow one, and the viewer is required to be patient, just like a detective.
The series presents first of all a Kate Winslet extremely distant, in time and attitude, from the fragile Kate from “Titanic”. Now she wears the heavy, lacy clothes of a grumpy, retired rural policewoman who never seems to have possessed the gift of ever being loved by anyone.
Mare does not know how to smile, she does not know how to gain sympathy and she seems – despite her family responsibilities – always shrouded in the clouds of her loneliness. Beyond its apparent crudeness, however, we can guess an ambition of a different nature, both dark and saving.
About violence, terror and inner demons
Crimes in small communities, however, reveal demons pitiful in such places. As Mare rummages in forbidden places for answers, these demons do what they know best: they come to the surface in order to bury everything.
Movies about “crimes” have a special code. Violence, terror and evil can be visually expressed in a direct way: blood, screams, shocking scenes, full of physical or psychological cruelty, rendered in the most appropriate way gore.
In “Easttown Crime,” violence and evil seem to somehow “crawl” behind the camera, always present, but never in the frame. Blood and screams are replaced by carefully chosen filming angles and shots, camera movements and frame compositions in which the viewer, like a detective, can try to guess clues.
Here, violence, terror and trauma are rarely at all represented by violent or aggressive scenes: The film’s code is, from this point of view, extremely rich: tension and drama are rendered and implied rather by the way the filming angles are chosen. , frames, camera movements or frame composition. The way in which the “awakening to reality” is preceded by deceptive moments of calm or vaguely melancholic scenes.
But the HBO mini-series isn’t just about exploring a crime. The story unfolds on several levels and gradually turns into a real psychological study of exploring its multiple characters and the pain caused by various traumas. The spotlight is thus placed enough on each main character so that the viewer can discern the darkness of his soul. Mare is not the only fighter or the only depository of past sufferings activated by the present tragedy she is investigating.
“Mare of Easttown” is not, in fact, about a simple or simple crime presented simply, with the help of a one-dimensional narrative thread. It is about humanity and people and how they manifest themselves around the most terrible tragedies. The HBO mini-series is a story that fills us with emotions and that can change, if not everything, at least something essential in each of us. A reason more than enough to be pursued.