Netflix's Unbelievable Season 1 Review

... but true

by Casimir Harlow

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Netflix's powerful and effective crime drama Unbelievable tells a heartbreaking story of police investigations and abuse that nobody believes happened.

Horrifically based on a true story, Unbelievable takes an unusual line in studying a crime (or series of crimes), initially focusing on the victim of a rape, before shifting to look at the detectives who are looking at an entirely different case, which may well be linked.

An already troubled teenage foster kid, Marie is understandably traumatised by what she has been through, but after being forced to give multiple statements which prove inconsistent, she buckles when put under pressure to explain herself and, facing threats of jail time for giving a false statement, feels compelled to say instead that she made the whole thing up. Which would be the end of the matter were it not for the investigations of two detectives, who are looking into other rapes fitting a similar pattern...

Performances are on-point, with its trio of leads on fabulous form

The first episode is brutal watching, with Kaitlyn Dever (at the opposite end of the spectrum to her role in Justified), on superb form as the young victim of an assault that everybody - her friends, foster families, and the police - increasingly believes never happened. It would have been really interesting were this played out without the flashbacks to the actual crime because her fumbling statements and fractious behaviour may have even led viewers to question whether the crime had even happened, but arguably the tragedy is more powerful, as we see what she has been through even though nobody else does.

Marie remains a background focus character come episode 2, where we are introduced to Merritt Weaver's (Michael Clayton, Godless) Detective, investigating the rape of another teenager (Danielle Macdonald - Bird Box, Lady Bird) in a much more sympathetic way, and determined to catch a criminal who leaves absolutely no trace, and eventually joining up with Toni Collette's (on a roll with Netflix after Velvet Buzzsaw) tough and no-nonsense detective who is looking at her own crime, and is also keen on putting the pieces together.
Unbelievable
Shot coldly, with muted tones and an at-times docu-drama style, Unbelievable is hardly an obvious candidate for the benefits for 4K UHD - with Netflix Dolby Vision to boot - but the image quality is impressive nonetheless, picking up fine details, strong shadow detail and a few scattered striking colour tones. Netflix still rides a little dark when it comes to their Dolby Vision implementation - there's dark and then there's Netflix Dolby Vision dark - but the clean resolution and perfected UHD image largely make up for this.

It's a purposefully paced affair, told - as aforementioned - in an unusual way, as it shifts the focus gradually over the first few episodes to become, eventually, a through and through detective investigation. Performances are on-point, with its trio of leads on fabulous form. Dever is superb as the victim, and Weaver great as the first detective introduced, and Toni Collette hits the stage with a bang, threatening to steal the show but still largely rounding out a fine lead cast.

It also makes up for yesterday's trainwreck of a TV series, The I-Land, and - at the opposite end of the spectrum - comes recommended

This is strong programming for Netflix, founding its tale in what must have been a truly tragic real-life story, and running with it methodically, as if you are watching a real-life investigation unfold organically. It's not quite as thrilling as, say, The Sinner, but it's also not designed to be, evoking a stronger sense of outrage and injustice, and investing you in the characters. It also makes up for yesterday's trainwreck of a TV series, The I-Land, and - at the opposite end of the spectrum - comes recommended.

Scores

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