If you think the wilds of Missouri seems like a strange place to show how the world of money laundering works you wouldn’t be alone, but Netflix’s new series, Ozark, manages to do just that with a dash of backwoods style.
When Financial Planner Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) discovers his business partner has been skimming funds from the second largest drug cartel in Mexico, he’s forced to pay back the stolen funds while still laundering the rest of the money…by himself. Uprooting his entire family from their idyllic suburban life in Chicago, he transplants them to a resort town on Lake Ozark. If his trouble with the cartel wasn’t enough, Marty must also keep up appearances with his unfaithful wife Wendy (Laura Linney), dealing with his coming-of-age teenage daughter Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz), and that his son Jonah (Skylar Gaertner) is finding out more about his underworld dealings than he should. And if Marty can’t figure out a way to follow cartel kingpin Camino Del Rio’s (Esai Morales) exact instructions, the best he can expect for his family is that they’ll all wind up buried in the same plot at the cemetery.
Bateman is excellent both in front of and behind the camera as actor, director, and executive producer. At first Marty comes off as a high-functioning sociopath, but as the show evolves you can’t help but admire his ability to assess out-of-control situations and formulate responses. The critics seem mostly split, with some claiming Bateman lacks the charisma to carry the show, but for those fans of his style the rewards are bountiful. For me, personally, his deadpan delivery was spot on and really made the show. Linney’s turn as his wife Wendy also elevates the entire premise as she fights to keep her family safe while trying to come to terms with her and her husband’s bad decisions. Morales’s turn as a ruthless drug lord hits all the right notes, but Julia Garner’s portrayal of Ruth Langmore, an underage matriarch of a white trash crime family, steals the show as she transforms from threat to one of Marty’s closest allies.
While much of the show was filmed in Georgia at Lake Altoona, it still manages to effectively capture the essence of Missouri and the haunting and quiet beauty of life on the lake. In some ways the water becomes a character in its own right as so many things occur while gliding along its placid surface. To some it acts as a savior and for others an instrument of vengeance.
Ozark has been described as “Breaking Bad meets the world of money laundering.” To some extent that’s a fair comparison, but while Walter White’s motivation is to leave his family better off, Marty Byrde’s is more about simply keeping them alive in the face of impossible odds. Like Breaking Bad, Ozark takes the viewer through the looking glass into a world of crime and deprivation that lies just under the surface of normalcy.