Today’s rarest of classic tragedies
By Michael Moriarty
I’ve been watching an exceptionally well-made, murder mystery film series on Netflix, Collateral.
Already, however, within the first episode, we seem to be told not only who the murderer is but that she’s a woman, a fascinatingly complex villainess!
Yet, on the other hand, and in spite of her exceptional professionalism as a killer, the unsurprising result of a career in the military, she may have very well shot the wrong man.
This question of whether the murdered man is the “right man” or the “wrong man” haunts us throughout this four-part series.
The acting by everyone involved is beyond even, as they often say in London, where the film takes place, “top-drawer”!
The female assassin’s superior officer, Major Tim Dyson, impeccably portrayed by Robert Portal, puts our mystery killer through a superbly played investigation, revealing our central suspect, Sandrine Shaw, of emotionally complex duplicity as a Captain in the British Army.
One who recently completed her tour of duty in Syria.
That site of the longest war in the English-speaking, both British and American military history, is the inspiration for one of the finest and most exquisitely created, modern tragedies on film that I’ve ever had the privilege of viewing.
Of course, a lion’s share of the credit for the power of Sandrine Shaw belongs to the almost frighteningly committed performance of that role by Jeany Spark!
Apparently, we think, by the third episode, that our tragic figure did indeed kill the right man.
Yet we can’t really know that for sure.
But who ordered this execution?!
The death being a “hit”, of course, means that the pizza shop-owner, who has also been murdered by the end of Episode Two, deliberately sent the murder victim to his death.
That, of course, is at the heart of not only the mystery murder but also one of the most revealing factors about how large this criminal conspiracy actually is!
It goes to the top of a, by now, well and wealthily “set-up”, ex-military man and his extraordinary influence.
In her second meeting with her superior officer our killer again dances entirely around the, by now, ugly truths within this impressively high level conspiracy which she is utterly unaware of.
Major Dyson, an obvious expert in psychiatric procedure, gently orders the Captain to take a short leave of absence!
Captain Sandrine Shaw, the indisputably fascinating killer of our first murder victim within this intensely complex, multiple murder mystery, gains our sympathy through the nightmare she finds herself inextricably trapped in.
She finds no substantive solace from a rather obligatory visit to her mother.
Of course, she can’t really be honest with anyone, least of all her mother, about anything, except, of course, with her co-conspirator, with whom she seems to have little or no true connection … yet!
I learn now that our female killer committed murder because she wanted to kill a terrorist?!
Any terrorist she could find with anyone’s help?!
And the man who found the any-old-terrorist she wants to kill: former military officer, Peter Westbourne of Pimlico Travel?!
He’s now advising his co-conspirator in a post-mortem of their cold-bloodedly conspiratorial murder, to “just back off!”
Then he adds, “You might have to! I’m saying that for your own good.”
Before they part ways, Peter declares, “I’m ready to kill anyone who harms you or your mother.”
Meanwhile, the reasoning behind the second killing, that of the pizza manager, Laurie Stone?
The villainy thickens with connections to a Mid-Eastern Mafia of some sort.
Amidst all this multi-cultural mystery, some scenes are almost too delicious to be believed!!
Our heroine, “Kit”, meets with the, so far, highest of the MI5 higher-ups whom she has crossed a few bitter paths with: John Heffernan’s brilliantly captured villain, MI5’s very own Sam Spence.
They, to put it most precisely, negotiate: she for information, he for his entire reputation.
Yes, she has him, as they say, by the short and pubic!
The editing and its timing, particularly the decisions on when to cut from each face in close-up?!
For one, the acting is so good, you are, if you are also a professional actor, quite repeatedly amazed by its flawlessly unforced precision and depth!
The villains and villainesses are apparently working for a British government agency.
The inquisitions by our heroine begin with a demand for the name of the first assassin. We’ve known who she is for quite some time.
However, the motive for the assassination is now an open question despite the killer’s own self-image as the executioner of terrorists.
“Why did they have to kill him?” asks our heroine.
We were led to believe that the “killer” was a pure victim of her own good intentions over destroying terrorists!
The victim of our terrorist-killer “knew the name of ‘the Boss’”.
Apparently the dead terrorist had “The Boss’s” address and “The Boss” didn’t want the so-called terrorist to have it!
So, all the dead man’s female killer knew was that this man she murdered was undeniably a “terrorist”.
When the witness to all of this agrees to give our heroine the name of “The Boss”, our leading lady says, “And the killer! We’ll need the killer too.”
It ends up, “The Boss” is an established and highly regarded military officer who was running his own personal army of vengeance upon his odd set of personal enemies.
And who does this villain turn out to be?!
It’s so obvious that it hurts: Peter Westbourne, the former senior officer to our killer, Captain Sandrine Shaw.
And Sandrine Shaw, bursting with the hell of good intentions, enacts the will of not only her criminally opportunistic military superior but she is also fulfilling a lifetime of dreamy admiration for the military men in her family!
After hearing dozens of theories about why there are no authentically tragic modern heroes or heroines in contemporary film, theater or television?! The character of Sandrine Shaw, and her performance by Jeany Spark, achieve that long-abandoned dream of all dramatists: creating an authentically tragic figure. That character’s decision to shoot herself has been made but hope springs eternally alive until, of course, she asks for the true guilt of her victim!
I wept like a baby when our heroine, the relentless, female detective, feels obliged to tell Sandrine the truth.
Neither of these superbly and divinely tough actresses falls for one ounce of sentimentality.
They tell their stories without one ounce of self-pity!
As the brief epilogue to Collateral unfolds, the words of the most diabolical figure in this drama, Peter Westbourne, must be recalled:
It proves to be, in one of the most dramatic of tragic ironies, that Peter Westbourne could only fulfill that promise to Ms. Shaw by killing himself. It was he who, in the end, drove Sandrine to suicide and her mother into endless heartbreak over the death of her daughter.
No, it is not merely Collateral damage.
This exceptional four-part series delivers an all-too-rare and powerfully convincing tragedy!
A classic tragedy in the profoundest sense of the word.
Michael Moriarty is a Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning actor who starred in the landmark television series Law and Order from 1990 to 1994. His recent film and TV credits include The Yellow Wallpaper, 12 Hours to Live, Santa Baby and Deadly Skies. Contact Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be found on Twitter at https://twitter.com/@MGMoriarty.