Sky Atlantic’s latest attempt at producing a Netflix-style original hit after glossy drama Riviera debuted back in June to lukewarm reviews is Tin Star, a pulpy ten-part revenge thriller starring frequent Quentin Tarantino collaborator Tim Roth and Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks.
In an effort to escape his demons, alcoholic police detective Jim Worth (Roth) moves his family, wife Angela (Genevieve O’Reily) sulky teenage daughter Anna (Abigail Lawrie) and five-year-old son Peter (Rupert Turnbull), out of London to live a picturesque existence in the sleepy Canadian mountain town of Little Big Bear.
This peaceful atmosphere is abruptly shattered with the arrival of shady oil company North Stream, represented by new spin doctor Elizabeth Bradshaw (Hendricks) and head of security Mr Gagnon (Christopher Heyerdahl), who’ve decided to build a new oil refinery near-by.
It’s a controversial decision, one that acts to send waves of anger throughout the town and create a tense, simmering air of frustration which feels like it could boil over at any moment.
All at once, everything comes to a head as Worth’s mysterious past comes back to haunt him and Peter is brutally killed by a masked assailant as the family attempts to flee.
It’s an unexpected, very shocking moment and one that’s almost Tarantino-like in its execution with the strikingly disturbing image of Peter’s shiny red blood splattering all over Anna’s face played out for us repeatedly.
Indeed, there’s a lot of moments in Tin Star’s earlier episodes which feel a bit like something you’d find in one of the Pulp Fiction director’s films or even in an episode of Channel 4’s Fargo.
Tim Roth is completely brilliant in the lead role managing to expertly create a likeable and hugely charismatic character in Worth who’s clearly fighting to keep control of a much darker and more twisted side of his personality, referred to as his unhinged alter-ego Jack Devlin.
Although it takes a frustratingly long time for Devlin to appear, it’s well worth the wait for when he eventually does. The lengthy sequence of him hunting down, savagely beating and then setting alight a man he suspects of having killed his son is unflinchingly intense and gloriously entertaining.
There’s also baby-faced psychopath Whitey (Oliver Coopersmith) who we quickly learn is actually behind Peter’s horrific murder and his gang of thugs, none of whom are unfortunately awarded any real characterization, who’ve mysteriously arrived from London to take Worth out.
While Coopersmith is a decent actor, Whitey can’t help but feeling like a painfully overly quirky and clichéd character. It’s like the writers are trying way too hard to make him seem strange and menacing, randomly showing him furiously body-popping in his underwear for example, but it just ends up feeling a bit lame.
Flashbacks and time are also both employed and manipulated to keep everything wonderfully tense and the extreme bloody violence is contrasted beautifully with seriously stunning cinematography like icy blue skies, empty cavernous valleys and miles of pure, dazzlingly white snow.
A great example is episode 3 where we open to Whitey bashing an unknown victim’s head in with a large rock. When Anna later impulsively accepts his offer of a lift late at night the whole journey instantly takes on a very unsettling tone for the viewer and it’s thrilling to watch her tortuously come to the same sinister realisation.
Although 10 episodes isn't an unusual amount for a TV show by any means, Tin Star unfortunately really struggles to keep its narrative compelling throughout its rather flat and poorly-paced second half.
We’re shown Whitey and his gang repeatedly botching Worth’s assassination attempts and while a scene or two like this is to be expected, seeing it played out over and over again quickly makes the scenario feel stale and robs it of any threatening tension it might’ve had by making the supposedly skilled gangsters seem incredibly inept.
Characters are also shown making strange decisions which don’t at all align with what we've seen of them so far in order to move along Tin Star’s various subplots, none of which are particularly inspired or interesting.
Whitey’s seduction of the teenaged Anna for example might’ve been an intriguing power play if he were simply using her to get close to Worth, but it doesn't make sense that he’d genuinely fall for her. Especially to the extent where he's prepared to run away with her and abandon the whole assassination plot after only a few weeks.
Then there's North Stream. Heyerdahl’s Gagnon is a comically stereotypical bad guy, not in the least bit threatening or intimidating, who comes across as more of a cheesy James Bond villain from the 1960s with a vaguely sinister European accent and sharp black suits.
His subplot doesn't go anywhere as it's never explained why he bugged the Little Big Bear police station and when he's gunned down by Angela after breaking into the Worth family home, it's almost a relief.
Hendricks fares a little better, but her character definitely feels underwritten. She doesn't feature as prominently as the trailer suggests and we’re never really given much of an insight into her as a person, beyond a brief glimpse of an ex-husband and two children, so it's hard to really form any attachment to her character.
Tin Star has been renewed for a second season by Sky Atlantic which is very apparent in its cliff-hanger ending. After Worth shoots Whitey dead, Anna quickly picks up his gun and fires a single shot, but we cut to black before it's revealed if she actually hit anyone.
It's somewhat effective, playing on that common genre trope of the protagonist stooping to the villain's level in order to obtain revenge, but now Worth has murdered all of his son's killers and the town's residents are out for his blood after he shot a fellow police detective and tortured a barmaid, it's unclear exactly where the series plans to go.
Overall, Tin Star is just too uneven to really recommend. Sure it features an excellent lead performance from Roth and a spattering of Tarantino like action, but it's difficult to see past the rambling and uninteresting plot, inconsistent characters and weak villains.
All ten episodes of Tin Star are available are available to stream with Sky Box Sets now.