Judge Daryl Loomis can't remember writing this review.
What changed, Dad?
Tom Ronstadt (John Simm, Life on Mars) left home almost twenty years earlier, but he returns after his father, Sam (Jim Broadbent, Vanity Fair), has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. He's not coming back to take care of his father; he doesn't really care about that and his sister, Nancy (Olivia Colman, Hot Fuzz), has been taking care of it. Tom needs answers and his dad, once a powerful journalist, is the one with them, if only he can draw them out before his memories have completely disappeared.
Exile presents an interesting mix of stories that doesn't seem like it would work as well as it does. On the surface, it has all the trappings of a crime thriller and does pretty well with it. At its heart, though, it's a well done family story about a man searching for the truth behind why he left his family. There was an incident; Tom saw something and his father beat him mercilessly for finding it. Sam had never done anything like this before and Tom never actually got to look at it, so he's never understood why it was such a big deal. All he remembers was a name, "Metzler," and as he starts to pry slivers of information out of his dad, he starts to uncover something a lot bigger than he ever could have thought.
BBC aired Exile over three nights (though, oddly, the program is presented as two episodes on the release), and it works well as a serialized drama. The two stories are woven together really well. Each feeds into the other until, finally, the thriller finally takes over, even if the family story is the really the better of the two. While they are balanced well most of the time, the mystery often feels shoehorned into the family story, but it does keep things going. There's not much in the mystery that will draw a lot of surprise, but it's well written and the characters get a lot of chance to shine.
Jim Broadbent steals the show as the father, delivering a consistently solid performance as a man sinking deeper into dementia. He's very believable and retains quite a bit of charm. John Simm is good as the son, but in having to split time between that and the mystery investigation, his character gets pulled in a lot of different directions. The strongest overall performance comes from Olivia Colman, though, as the put-upon sister who takes advantage of her brother's presence to get some time to herself and free her life up a little bit. Known more for her comedy than dramatic roles, she does a fantastic job selling the character, giving it both humor and weight, and balancing out the father/son business that dominate her scenes.
While the mystery is the hook, the strength of Exile is in the performances, and it works on that basis almost exclusively. The scenes of suspense are effective enough, but there aren't a lot of surprises in the narrative. The family story is really strong, though, and makes all the difference. There is better suspense out there, but the performances are very strong and make the family stuff a lot more interesting than the suspense.
Exile arrives from BFS in a two-disc edition that is decent but nothing special. The 1.78:1 anamorphic image is fairly strong for a BBC show, and though it has an overall flatness to it, the transfer is error-free. The sound is a very average stereo mix, but the dialog is clear. The only real problem is that theme music, which plays incessantly but still sounds fine. The only extra is a brief behind the scenes featurette on the second disc that is pretty standard, but informative.
Sometimes, the thriller feels a little bit forced into the father-son story, but it works surprisingly well most of the time. The performances are great, it's compelling throughout the three hours, and is easily recommended.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BFS Video
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