'Red Road' continues SundanceTV's roll

"The Red Road" a SundanceTV original production, stars Julianne Nicholson and Martin Henderson.
"The Red Road" a SundanceTV original production, stars Julianne Nicholson and Martin Henderson. (JAMES MINCHIN / SundanceTV)
Posted: February 28, 2014

SundanceTV, as the Sundance Channel recently rebranded itself, has been on fire over the last year, with a terrific lineup of moody, character-driven dramas, including Jane Campion's New Zealand saga Top of the Lake; the haunting Jean-Paul-Sartre-meets- The-Walking-Dead zombie yarn, The Returned; and its first original scripted production, the homegrown Rectify, about a man whose conviction for raping and murdering a teen is set aside after he spends nearly two decades on death row.

The cabler's second original production, The Red Road, is equally heavy with atmosphere. We get a lot of loaded stares, creepy furtive glances, and half-enunciated threats. While it's a diverting, if slow-moving mixture of crime drama and gloomy soap opera, it doesn't measure up to its predecessors.

Writer-producer Aaron Guzikowski's six-episode drama, which premieres Thursday at 9 p.m., stars Game of Thrones alumnus Jason Momoa as Phillip Kopus, an ex-con who has just returned to his tiny hometown to set up shop as an all-around villain.

Phillip, who has a dangerous charm that drives girls to distraction, likes to hurt people. (Before the first 10 minutes of the pilot have passed, we find out he's already been involved in a murder.)

Phillip's murky soul and apparently dark heart are balanced by the Dudley Do-Right nature of his old high school classmate, Harold Jensen (Martin Henderson), a onetime football star and now a by-the-book deputy sheriff.

The two men first clash when Harold forbids his daughter Rachel (Allie Gonino) to date her one true love, Phillip's younger brother Junior (Kiowa Gordon).

What makes The Red Road unique and worth checking out is the world these two men inhabit.

Harold lives in a tiny town in northwestern New Jersey named Walpole, while Phillip, a Lenape, comes from the self-styled Native American reservation in the nearby hills.

Although they're merely 25 minutes west of New York - you can see the Manhattan skyline from the hilltops - folks in these two communities seem to exist in an impossibly remote rural world of their own. They might as well be living in the Australian Outback.

More interesting still, as each successive episode peels away their masks, the otherwise diametrically opposed Phillip and Harold begin to take on values they once loathed.

Harold, for one, doesn't exactly have an ideal life: His wife Jean (Julianne Nicholson) is a chronic alcoholic who has a psychotic break when she goes cold turkey and ends up making a fatal mistake that will resonate throughout the season.

The Red Road may not be SundanceTV's strongest drama, but it has a hypnotic power, a strange rhythm of dread that makes it far more interesting than most network dramas.


TELEVISION REVIEW

The Red Road

9 p.m. Thursday on SundanceTV (formerly the Sundance Channel)

www.sundance.tv/series/the-red-road


tirdad@phillynews.com

215-854-2736

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