Named for the stunning mountain range in which it’s set, Ozark is an original Netflix drama series starring Jason Bateman and Laura Linney. Bateman plays Marty Byrde, a corrupt financier who suddenly relocates to the remote Missouri countryside from Chicago with wife Wendy, played by Linney, and two children. For reasons unknown initially, we learn he’s been laundering money for a Mexican cartel. When $8m goes missing, only a promise to return it with interest and a move away from the prying eyes of the big city spares Byrde his life.
Beginning anew on the shores of Lake of the Ozarks, Byrde desperately hunts for opportunities to launder his ill-gotten gains. Time is ticking and as he clashes with local criminals we learn that the F.B.I in Chicago are on his trail too. After discovering infidelity, the pair’s marriage hits the rocks and they struggle to feign normality for the children. Their rebellious teenage daughter, played by the excellent Sofia Hublitz, and young son begin to lash out.
Perhaps best known as Michael Bluth in Arrested Development, Bateman handles this non-comedic role with ease. Although creator and writer Bill Dubuque (who also wrote 2016 movie The Accountant) gave him a handful of darkly comic one liners to play with, his performance as a stern, quick-thinking con man is assured. The stakes are constantly high and the strain is etched on his face. Laura Linney’s portrayal of a bored, under-appreciated wife is equally superb. As if fronting the show wasn’t enough, Bateman is also the executive producer and directs four out of the ten one hour episodes.
The location plays a pivotal role in telling the story. The sheer cliff edges, deep murky lakes and dangerous horseshoe bends of the Ozark highlands add to the tension. We rarely see the sun. The colour palette is an earthy grey and there’s a constant air of menace bubbling under the surface.
There are a couple of gripes. Apart from a young local criminal named Ruth, the secondary characters are a little underdeveloped. We’d like to know more about a mysterious pastor who flits in and out and a well-meaning estate agent. The pace is also sluggish at times.
When the leading role is a morally conflicted family man that launders drug money for a Mexican cartel, it’s impossible to avoid the echoes of Breaking Bad. This similarity doesn’t distract from it one bit. Ozark stands on its own two feet as a solid, unnerving piece of television. As the multiple nets close in, and Marty’s world comes crashing down, we’re left with plenty of scope for a second series. Hopefully Netflix agrees.