You talkin' to me?
Predicated upon your tolerance of a slightly whimsical visual gimmick, the quirky twist of River’s cop drama marginally distracts from its otherwise compelling mental health intrigue.River is an ageing, tough, hardened, veteran, clichéd detective character who doesn’t play by the rules, doesn’t like the idea of having to see a counsellor, or being dressed down by his superiors, or pulled off cases. His bosses like his results but hate his manner. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before a hundred times. However, River’s key difference is that he talks to his partner. And his partner is dead. Handled smartly, this ostensible gimmick provides the lynchpin to distinguish River within the ever-burgeoning Brit/Nordic noir sub-genre.Its success comes, though, through the casting of veteran actor Stellan Skarsgard in the lead role, embracing this introspective, introverted character who spends much of his screen-time essentially talking to himself. Despite great support from Nicola Walker (veteran of Spooks and Touching Evil), Adeel Akhtar (the excellent Four Lions and the underrated Utopia), newcomer Georgina Rich, and the reliably unpleasant Eddie Marsan (Southcliffe, Tyrannosaur), it’s Skarsgard who drives – and steals – the show.
Although he may have become a household name through his Marvel contributions, the Swedish actor actually made some pretty meaty features back in the day, including the superior crime thriller Insomnia (which Chris Nolan would later remake with Pacino in the same role); his beleaguered detective here is a not-so-distantly related cousin, with Skarsgard pulling out all the stops to portray this traumatised character; his post-traumatic stress presenting in a uniquely visualised way, as not only his partner but actually new victims and old murderers haunt his waking hours.
River is a moody, engaging and different - albeit often in a slightly gimmicky way - police TV series.
With a game supporting cast, and a suitably dramatic story to tell (it’s one of those series with an over-arching back-story which arguably takes precedence over the ongoing detective tales within the episodes), River is a moody, engaging – albeit gimmicky – TV police series.
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