Culprits

Culprits, the latest addition to the streaming service’s repertoire, is a heist thriller directed by J Blakeson, known for the captivating amorality displayed in the highly enjoyable 2020 film, I Care a Lot. This television offering is inevitably labeled as “slick,” boasting high stylization, a brisk pace, an appealing visual aesthetic, and a stellar cast. While exuding glossy richness, it manages to weave in intriguing horror-adjacent ideas that add unexpected depth to the narrative.

The story unfolds across three timelines: BEFORE (pre-heist), THEN (during the heist), and NOW, each clearly demarcated by yellow capital letters whenever the narrative shifts between eras. In the pre-heist phase, a group of elite criminal masterminds, orchestrated by Gemma Arterton’s villainous character, Dianne Harewood, assembles to crack a supposedly impenetrable vault and steal ¬£30m. Their reward is substantial, but they must vanish from their old lives once the job is done.

Dianne asserts they will be robbing “fat cats” concealing their wealth, a premise that challenges believability given the transparency of corporate dealings in the UK. The gang members adopt functional, noir-esque nicknames based on their roles: Brain, Soldier, Driver, Right Hand, among others. Muscle, portrayed by Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, serves as our entry point, navigating the intricate web of the heist.

In the present, Muscle, now a stepfather striving for domestic bliss and attempting to open a bistro, faces a nightmarish turn of events when a hit-and-run collides with his past life, triggering a chain of unsettling events. A mysterious professional killer is on the hunt, targeting the gang members, and the narrative cleverly positions the main heist in the past, slowly revealing the consequences.

Reassembling the old gang is inherently stressful as they must uncover the identity of their assailant while breaking cover. Paranoia intensifies‚ÄĒoutsider, betrayed accomplice, or aggrieved victim? The concept of honor among thieves is loosely applied, adding complexity to their predicament.

The show’s lurid amorality unfolds in vibrant, bold colors, akin to a graphic novel’s boldness. It features blueprints, steampunk-style safes, meticulously choreographed action sequences, and global settings spanning the US, England, Norway, France, and Spain. The stellar cast, led by Gemma Arterton, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, and Niamh Algar, delivers compelling performances.

Stewart-Jarrett, portraying Muscle or Joe or David depending on the context, anchors the narrative seamlessly. His interactions with authority figures carry added tension, reflecting the realities faced by a black man in the US. The show doesn’t shy away from addressing systemic issues, enhancing the underlying tension and danger.

While some subtlety is sacrificed, Culprits maintains a violent tone akin to shows like Luther, attempting to justify its extreme bloodthirstiness by presenting violence in a somewhat cartoonish manner. Street shootouts in London and brutal torture scenes, however, require a resilient stomach from viewers.

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By acinetv