July 30, 2010 / 6:03 AM / 10 years ago

"Rubicon" a stylish conspiracy thriller

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Having set the bar high with “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad,” AMC introduces its third original series on Sunday.

It is too early to know for sure whether the conspiracy thriller “Rubicon” will join the lofty ranks of its two predecessors, the 13-episode series has all the early earmarks of distinctive drama and smart storytelling. AMC started beating the drum early, showing the pilot just after the season finale of “Breaking Bad” and the season premiere of “Mad Men.”

Like those two series, “Rubicon” shows great respect for the intelligence of its audience; unlike those two, it has more of a cinematic feel and a deliberate pacing that greatly resembles British drama. No one shouts. No loud music builds to a crescendo. It’s all very subdued, very low-key. Clues are scattered quietly and confidently, with the conviction that this understated approach heightens suspense and intrigue.

And it does. James Badge Dale stars as Will Travers, one of several intelligence analysts in a group mostly responsible for cracking codes. His zest for his job and life itself largely was erased by the loss of his wife and daughter at the World Trade Center. Only his penchant for being tardy saved him from that tragic fate.

He and his largely dysfunctional colleagues are supervised by his father-in-law (Peter Gerety), a superstitious gent whose avoidance of unlucky signs turns out to be not enough to ward off the ultimate tragedy. After that, Will reluctantly accepts a promotion, bringing him one level closer to the conspirators who manipulate world events for the benefit of big business and government.

The pilot also lays the groundwork for an intersecting mystery. Miranda Richardson plays Katherine Rhumor, wife of a philanthropic billionaire who, for no apparent reason, puts a bullet through his temple in the opening minutes of the drama.

In “Rubicon,” the brilliant mystery is complemented by some terrific performances and an artistic production design that meshes perfectly with the atmosphere of the drama. Topping the list of smart acting is Dale’s take on Will, making him at once taciturn and mildly depressed yet dogged in his pursuit of some frightening secrets. Not the kind of hero TV audiences usually get, Dale nonetheless is fascinating to watch and brilliant in his interpretation of the character.

At the same time, the use of subdued, institutional colors and drab settings fit perfectly with the environment of the top secret but spectacularly dull work that is the hub around which the story unfolds. The thoughtful combination of these elements suggests that AMC has done it again.

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