Acorn Media // 2013 // 305 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Jason Panella // October 29th, 2013
"You think you owe Gates? Why don't you ask yourself who you really owe."
Can a police drama push an insanely intense narrative and still be believable?
After a deadly mishap gets him booted from the anti-terrorism unit, Detective Sergeant Steve Arnott (Martin Compston, Sweet Sixteen) is given a second chance in a London-based anti-corruption squad. Arnott is assigned to dig into the life of Detective Chief Inspector Tony Gates (Lennie James, The Walking Dead), a fantastic cop who -- as Arnott's superior puts it -- is just too successful to be legit.
Line of Duty: Series 1 includes all five hour-long episodes of the first season.
Authenticity (or, at least, the illusion of authenticity) goes a long way to helping me actually enjoy police dramas. Watching cops groan about paperwork in the early seasons of Homicide: Life on the Street is infinitely more interesting to me than, say, the episodic cop action of any of Dick Wolf's programs. I like it when characters speak police lingo not because it's a way to show that a show's writers know some jargon, but it's something cops would actually grumble about a grueling day on the job. And I think this is what makes Line of Duty so interesting: the show tries to find the intersection of believable police drama and nail-biting thriller. It succeeds admirably.
By making the show pivot on the tense cat-and-mouse relationship between to the two leads, creator and writer Jed Mercurio (Bodies, Strike Back) propels Line of Duty forward at a frantic pace. James is great as DCI Gates, a smart cop who is as interested in attention garnered from "sexy" cases as he is in closing them. As DS Arnott, Compston brings a terse, idealistic zeal to his performance -- Arnott is still haunted by what happened during the botched counter-terrorism mission, and this ultimately informs his increasingly single-minded choices. Arnott and Gates are both good cops, in their way, but both are forced to play cat-and-mouse with each other. While this tension sets up some of the show's best moments, it also sets up its biggest fault: the unbelievable amount of serendipity used to set up the final act. Each episode ends with a variety of cliffhangers -- some of them are just incredible, but a few stretch the show's authenticity to the breaking point. They eventually swirl together into something that works for dramatic effect but feels, well, frustratingly staged (especially compared to everything leading up to the climax). Thankfully, Mercurio gets things back on track. His writing is jargon-heavy and twist-laden, but (for the most part) feels natural. The show dives headfirst into some unsettling moral gray areas, and I think it's handled excellently. This is especially true for one of the season's major subplot, in which an increasing amount of sinister activity troubles a lower-class London neighborhood.
And while James and Compston are great, the rest of Line of Duty's cast deserves mention. Gates's fiercely loyal team is packed with scene chewers, including Neil Morrissey (Men Behaving Badly) as a constable with a chip on his shoulder, and Vicky McClure (This Is England) as Kate Fleming, an ambitious detective with some hidden motivation. The show gets a lot of mileage out of seeing what happens when you put a bunch of volatile personalities with opposing motivations in the same room. But never too much mileageå‚efore long, the plot will surge forward again. And again. And again.
Acorn Media's release of Line of Duty: Series 1 features the season's five episodes on two discs. The set has a solid 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation and a beefy Dolby Digital stereo audio track. The extras: a 47-minute batch of interviews with the show's creative team and cast, and a 10-minute making-of featurette.
No need to investigate -- Line of Duty: Series 1 is good television.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 305 Minutes
Release Year: 2013
MPAA Rating: Not Rated