Tin Star, the latest Sky Atlantic drama, has a comfortingly familiar premise: Jim Worth (Tim Roth), an ex-detective from London with an alcohol problem, heads out to rural Canada with his family to start a new life only to find himself embroiled in crime, violence and personal tragedy far worse than anything back home.
It begins well. There’s a lovely establishing scene where Roth walks down the street with his new Canadian sheriff’s badge and everyone greets him, as people presumably do in sleepy Canadian Rockies towns like Little Big Bear, where everyone’s got time for one another. In the police station, his two junior officers have so little crime to solve they’re playing video games. At their suggestion, Jim heads off to the picturesque river nearby to fish for salmon and spots his first bear. Gosh, how delightful it’s all going to be: a bit like that gentle 1990s comedy series Northern Exposure…
Except, of course, we know that it won’t because right at the beginning we’ve seen Jim and his family— grumpy teenage daughter; attractive blonde wife who insists on wandering round in her underwear; cute five-year-old kid — being threatened in their car by a masked, gun-wielding assailant. There’s a shot. The interior of the car explodes red. Did someone die? Is this a dream or is this real? We’ll find out soon enough…
I ought at this point to warn: ‘Plot spoiler alert!’ Except I’m not honestly sure it matters because a) I really wouldn’t bother watching — it’s just not worth the effort — and b) because it’s all so predictable you’ll probably guess the plot twists anyway.
How many times, for example, have you seen a drama where there’s a panicked character fleeing a pursuer through the woods. It’s hopeless: any moment now they’re going to get caught and killed, when suddenly a lifeline presents itself. They see the lights of a car on the road. Gasping, they stagger in front of it to flag it down. Cut to interior of the car. But wait: you’ll never guess who the driver of the car is…
Nothing wrong with the odd cliché. But Tin Star is almost nothing but cliché and a terrible waste of a talented cast which, besides Roth, includes the lubricious Christina Hendricks from Mad Men here playing the sexy spokeswoman for an oil company so dodgy that it employs a sinister bald bloke with an indeterminate scary accent whose job title appears to be Head of Evil.
When the Head of Evil hears someone innocent has died, he doesn’t care — for all that matters to him is the ugly business of getting that deadly black stuff out of the ground and into the markets, where presumably it will be sold for disgusting profit. That and spying on people. Inexplicably, he has planted a bug under the desk of Sheriff Jim and sits there listening to his conversations.
But the melodramatic Head of Evil looks positively restrained next to the rag-bag crew of incompetent assassins who include: Taciturn Black Man; Baby-Faced Psychopath; Bickering Northern Thugs 1 and 2, one of whom carries a guitar and sings songs. Possibly the screenwriter was aiming for ‘quirky’ and ‘out there’. What he’s given us is the rejected first draft of a really bad Quentin Tarantino movie.
So no matter how much tortured angst Roth gives us, no matter how gorgeous the Canadian scenery (and it really does make you want to go there), no matter how thrillingly bloody the payback is going to be when Worth unleashes all those long-suppressed inner demons against his tormentors, it still won’t make a difference. It’s so implausible, so hackneyed, that already we just don’t care.