There have been times when Stephen King novels are brilliantly adapted for the screen (The Shawshank Redemption, The Shining, Stand By Me, Misery) and others you would really rather forget (Under the Dome).
Good news. The Outsider easily falls into the former. Plenty of that is due to its leading man Ben Mendelsohn as Detective Ralph Anderson who is summoned to the crime scene of a dead 11 year old boy, Frankie, in the Georgia woods.
All the signs and witnesses point to Little League coach Terry Maitland (Jason Bateman), but did he do it?
Terry is deliberately arrested publicly by Ralph in the middle of a local baseball game and hauled in for questioning. But while Terry insists he didn’t do it, the evidence is compelling. Bateman, who sets the directorial tone with the first two episodes, is also downright creepy in his role.
Meanwhile the murder of Frankie takes its toll on his mother and family in profound ways.
But Ralph, who is the centrepiece of this crime mystery, is also bearing his own cross, having lost his own young son earlier. Is it influencing his view of this case?
When the case takes unexpected U-turns and Ralph is up against it, he will bring in unorthodox private investigator Holly Gibney (Cynthia Erivo) to assist.
The Outsider is a softly-spoken and understated work and introspective Mendelsohn is brilliant in the lead role. It’s the best thing he’s done since Tangle in Australia and the fact HBO has him at the centre is evidence of his success stateside (The Dark Knight Rises, Rogue One, Ready Player One, Bloodline). The character lines on his face fit perfectly as a wearied but determined man here.
Director Jason Bateman, whose work on Ozark is dark and superb, is at his best here with the most traumatic scenes… all shot from some distance in silence. You feel the horror without having to confront it up close.
Also featuring are Mare Winningham as Ralph’s wife Jeannie, Bill Camp as lawyer Howie Gold and Julianne Nicholson as Terry’s wife, Glory.
This is a compelling drama, where your perception of guilt and innocence is challenged, amid stark scenes and insidious Stephen King plot moves. This will surely be one for the next awards season, notably for Mendelsohn as star and Bateman as director.
Don’t miss it.
The Outsider begins 1pm Monday on FOX Showcase.