Review by Sean Boelman
Although he once “retired” from filmmaking, Steven Soderbergh is still at it, and arguably making some of the best work of his career. Although the new miniseries Full Circle doesn’t reinvent the wheel for the prolific filmmaker, his consistent ability to tell a story in a captivating way ensures that this is in the upper echelon of his filmography.
The show follows a group of New York City residents whose lives become inextricably intertwined after a botched crime that threatens to uncover long-held secrets. It’s a convoluted conspiracy rooted in an intricate web of lies, but even when the story threatens to get melodramatic, the deft hand of Soderbergh manages to always pull it back in.
Full Circle represents a thrilling return to form for Soderbergh, showing that he still knows how to make a gripping crime thriller. However, what makes Full Circle stand out from the rest of Soderbergh’s work is that most of his crime films are about precision, this show is about the lack thereof… or so it seems. In trying to pull off a story about a botched crime, it requires just as much exactitude on the part of Soderbergh and Solomon as it does to choreograph the “perfect” crime.
The miniseries boasts all of Soderbergh’s trademark stylistic sensibilities, from the yellowed lighting on most of the cinematography to the occasionally aggressively digital look. However, one thing is as clear as it has ever been before: Soderbergh knows his way around an edit. Even at over five hours total runtime, the story feels enormously lean in a way that only Soderbergh could pull off.
On one hand, the series does have the air of being a series about non-white protagonists written and directed by white men. The show’s depictions of the Guianese immigrant community borders on stereotyping at times. However, despite this, the series does also show a clear concern over the issues of colonization and its modern-day equivalent, gentrification — even if these themes feel somewhat underdeveloped.
With such a massive ensemble as this, there are certainly characters who will feel more developed than others. Ultimately, the Postal Inspector characters — played by Zazie Beets and Jim Gaffigan — end up getting the short end of the stick. Although their role in the story is necessary to some extent, they have too much of a presence to be a mere plot device, but not enough to feel like a full part of the story.
The highlights of the cast are Claire Danes and Timothy Olyphant, who give extraordinary and nuanced performances in the leading roles. Supporting players Happy Anderson, Jharell Jerome, and CCH Pounder all get some exceptional moments. Dennis Quaid, unfortunately, does not fare so well, giving what is arguably the show’s most stilted turn.
Full Circle might be Steven Soderbergh’s best work in nearly a decade, because it tells a captivating story in Soderbergh’s signature lean way. In a world that is increasingly obsessed with nail-biting crime television, this seems like a sure-fire hit.
Full Circle streams on Max beginning July 13. All six episodes reviewed.