Koch Vision // 2004 // 203 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // January 24th, 2007
"It's never the scandal that brings people down -- it's the cover-up of the scandal."
Transplant Law & Order: Criminal Intent into the streets of Dublin, and you might end up with something akin to Proof, a four-part TV Irish crime miniseries from RTÉ, the Irish equivalent to the BBC. Like a snowball tumbling down a hill, Proof starts off small and insignificant, like a poor Irish cop drama knockoff, but gravity and sheer will carry the show towards an inexorable and riveting conclusion.
In Dublin, a shipping crate is opened and inspected by Customs in a routine search. But when the crate is stuffed to the brim with dead bodies, routine goes straight out the window. The apparent victims of a botched human smuggling operation, dozens of corpses being hauled out from a rusted shipping crate captivate the media.
With an election imminent, the Social Democratic candidate, Miles Carrick (Bryan Murray) springs into action to use the media event for political gains, lambasting the current administration's restrictive EU immigration policy laws. His harsh rebuke against the government and his easygoing charm seem to guarantee a landslide victory.
Meanwhile, investigative journalist Terry Corcoran (Finbar Lynch), a once-respected member of the press now stuck in a dead-end job with a hack rag newspaper, comes across a smaller story about a carjacker shot dead in the street. Terry is brusque and hard-hitting, but also a bit of a conspiracy theorist, chasing after improbable leads and non-existent angles.
The story of human trafficking is far less interesting in his eyes than the carjacking victim murdered, but the more Terry digs into the story, the more he begins to see the stories may be connected. He is approached by Nina Kutpreka (Sidse Babett Knudsen), an Armenian refugee who fears her sister may be counted among the dead. Together, their investigations lead them hurtling towards the point of no return, towards an inescapable conclusion that could have dire consequences for their safety -- and direr consequences for the government of Ireland.
Irish TV shows and movies don't often make their way across the pond for our consumption, so it is refreshing to see this fresh take on serialized drama. Fairly by-the-numbers as far as thrillers go, Proof doesn't add anything new or groundbreaking to the genre, but it dances to the tune well enough to be an entertaining ride through political corruption, scandal, conspiracy, and murder. It may be uninspired, but on the plus side, having been raised with countless shows in the same vein for a generation, North American audiences should feel immediately familiar and comfortable with it.
Painfully influenced by its stylish British counterpart Spooks (in North America, MI-5) Proof borrows (steals, really) the overly dramatic string musical cues, sweeping helicopter city shots, hard-rock soundtrack, screeching car chases, and...well, pretty much everything, save for the actual secret agents. European standards allow for much more flexibility in terms of language, sexuality, and violence than North American standards, and Proof is more in line with HBO-style programming -- lots of gunshots, naked strippers, and curses tossed about like the wind. Nothing too excessive, mind you; it is all handled maturely without being exploitative.
The mix of political machinations and criminal crime drama is a natural mix for a drama; within no time at all, we have a full-blown conspiracy on our hands with protagonists being chased through the streets by gun-toting henchmen, Armenian pimps, you name it. Proof stays fairly rooted in reality in terms of action -- there are only two or three gunshots and no excessive car chases, explosions, or other action archetypes shamelessly exploited -- but occasionally gets a bit unbelievable in terms of plot development. As long as you keep your suspension of disbelief up and running, Proof hits all the right notes, but let it fall, and the absurdity and predictability of the plot may irk you.
What I enjoyed is how Proof takes ample time in setting up a complex backdrop of personal demons for its protagonists to wrestle with, including Terry's demanding sister, his senile father, and a non-existent relationship with his estranged ex-wife and daughter, all of which systematically come back to plague him during the course of the series. Indeed, the strongest points of Proof come through its subplots and interpersonal relationships, which are well-defined and strongly realized. For a television drama, the acting is decent enough. Miles Carrick (Bryan Murray), in particular, does an excellent job as the principled politician who is likeable and fierce at the same time. Some of the villains are cut from too generic a mold to be truly effective -- the suit-wearing hitman, the violent Armenian pimp; this weighs down the authenticity somewhat. Still, the series does a nice job at fleshing out the lives of its characters and making them real humans.
A second subplot of human exploitation and trafficking originally presents itself as the catalyst that starts the conspiracy running, but continues running in conjunction with the political scandal. Much of the prostitution plotline from the first half of the series borrows a direct page from the second season of HBO's The Wire scene-for-scene, but Proof seems somewhat unclear how to properly incorporate this element into the greater story at-large. It is a fascinating angle that is introduced and forgotten in rapid succession, never expanded upon to its full potential but always dragged up for dramatic effect.
The transfer is extremely soft and hazy, but otherwise free from print defects or flaws. Primary colors are saturated and pleasing, but compression artifacts and jagged edges are noticeable. For a made-for-TV Irish drama, the quality is acceptable. The audio, a 2.0 stereo track, is full and decent in the low-range; dialogue is clear, but my receiver had a hell of a time with the audio track. Periodically, the audio simply cut away for a half-second or two before returning on its own. The score, a dramatic and aggressive orchestration with hard rock elements, is very reminiscent of BBC's MI-5.
Being a production from Ireland's public service broadcaster, a few segments of the program are in Irish (the language), which is distractingly incomprehensible to North American ears -- you keep recognizing sounds from English and unwittingly attempt to comprehend an extremely foreign language by reflex action. Suffice it to say, it fails. The lack of subtitles to decipher these bits of dialogue (and to aid in combing through the already thick Irish-tinted English accents) is a pretty big miss for Koch Vision.
Extra material is so slim as to be completely nonexistent. A trailer or two of adverts is stuck at the start of the first disc, and that's it.
The underpinning storyline is somewhat predictable and preposterous, almost painfully so. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to read through the lines and figure out who the bad guys are. Ordinarily, this could be excused, but the transparent nature of the story makes it hard to stick with the show for its total running time of four hours for people who like to think ahead.
The plot builds tension well enough, but it has difficulty shaking much of the absurdity of its core storyline -- the villains act with such ruthless disregard for any of the normal elements that might otherwise plague a real criminal in reality, like people on streets noticing blatant murders going on in broad daylight, police bringing civilians along with them on sting operations, things of that like.
Proof doesn't break any ground in delivery, story, or acting, but it is refreshing to see some tense, action-packed television that isn't home grown. Equal parts family, political, and crime drama, there are worse ways of wiling away a few hours, especially if you dig Irish accents.
All this fuss over a stolen laptop? Haven't these people learned about removable storage devices? That's what you get for not backing up your files.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Vision
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 203 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated