Saturday, April 20, 2013

Top of the Lake (TV Miniseries)

Top of the Lake is a seven-part TV miniseries about a detective who is trying to find a 12-year old pregnant girl whose father is a local drug lord in a small yet remote New Zealand town. Written and created by Jane Campion and Gerard Lee and directed by Campion and Garth Davis, the miniseries is a suspense story that involves a world where many people are carrying secrets and some are trying to hide from the secrets just as a girl is disappearing from the world. Starring Elisabeth Moss, Peter Mullan, David Wenham, and Holly Hunter. Top of the Lake is a chilling yet mesmerizing miniseries from Jane Campion, Garth Davis, and Gerard Lee.

A 12-year old girl named Tui (Jacqueline Joe) is pregnant as she is the daughter of a local drug lord named Matt Mitcham (Peter Mullan) where people are wondering who got her pregnant. An investigation happens led by Robin Griffin (Elisabeth Moss) as she questions Tui about who the father is where the only thing Tui reveals are the words “no one”. When Tui suddenly disappears, a manhunt happens where Griffin turns to her former boyfriend and Tui’s half-brother Johnno Mitcham (Thomas M Wright) for help while getting aid from Detective Sergeant Al Parker (David Wenham). While the investigation progresses as it involves land disputes, drug trades, and all sorts of things in the underworld while a group of women are seeking sanctuary in a camp led by the enigmatic GJ (Holly Hunter).

Things eventually take an emotional and mental toll on Griffin, who was the victim of a rape at the age of 15, as her mother (Robyn Nevin) is dying while she becomes troubled by her own past. Secrets are unveiled that leads to Griffin to get more questions about Tui’s whereabouts as well as the mystery into who is the father of Tui’s baby. What the miniseries does is create a story that isn’t just a suspense-drama but a woman’s exploration into facing her own demons just as she is trying to find this young girl. Even as she is surrounded by women who are victims of abuse, neglect, or something incomprehensible as they try to save themselves in this camp led by this strange figure. Just as the series progresses in each episode, the stakes of trying to find Tui becomes much more troubling as it’s not just the police that are trying to find her but the girl’s father who is descending into madness over her disappearance.

The teleplay by Jane Campion and Gerard Lee does play with some of the conventions of a mystery where little clues do arrive to reveal something big or small. By breaking the story into seven parts, it allows each episode to reveal little clues on not just Tui’s disappearance but why Robin Griffin is so personally invested in this case as it relates to her own demons from the past. Even as each clue she finds brings her closer to not just about Tui but also a dark underworld involving the drug trade and prostitution. She also has to confront the people around her including her boss, her former boyfriend, and her ailing mother about these secrets where her mother is carrying one of her own that would later impact Robin to the brink of an emotional breakdown.

The script also plays into characters like Matt Mitcham, Johnno Mitcham, and Al Parker as they’re these three different men who are all connected to Robin Griffin as well as the case. While Matt Mitcham may be this local drug lord with a dark reputation as well as having casual conversations with the police, he’s also a man that is becoming troubled by Tui’s disappearance. Either he’s in denial or he might be involved about what happened to Tui yet he is someone that does have good intentions to get his daughter back. Matt’s estranged son Johnno is a man trying to start a new life after serving an eight-year prison in Thailand as he was living with Tui’s mother. Having Robin back in in his life creates complications as he remembers the night Robin was raped while his presence makes her mother uncomfortable which relates to the secret that she carries during her visit to GJ’s compound.

Al Parker is just as mysterious as the other characters as he is a leading police figure who is very rich and lives in a lavish home which causes Robin to raise questions about how he makes his money. Although he would help Robin and even ask her to marry him, there are still things about him that makes Robin uneasy as well as his connection to Mitcham. Then there’s the camp compound leader GJ who is easily the most mysterious person of the entire story. Though she doesn’t really do much when it involves Tui or the case, she is someone who provides shelter to women yet she says mysterious things that are very eccentric. Yet, she knows what these women are going through but doesn’t provide answers that will help them but rather point them in the right direction.

The direction of Jane Campion and Garth Davis is very entrancing for the way it presents this small town in New Zealand that is surrounded by mountains and a big lake where these locations are characters in the miniseries. Shot in the cities of Queenstown and Glenorchy, the miniseries does have this air of chilling ambiance in its settings where there’s a lot of bluish, grey colors while there is this mix between nature and the city. Notably for the scenes set in the day where there is this sense of unease throughout the town where there is something that is secretive but no one wants to speak out. The images that Campion and Davis create are full of mesmerizing imagery and lots of little tidbits such as deer heads, bones, and other things to establish a world that is modern but still reveled in something that harkens back to the idea of an old world order.

Filled with a mixture of shots ranging from hand-held to gazing establishing shots of the location, the direction is quite stylish but also intimate at times to play out some of the drama that occurs. Notably as it has this air of suspense that happens throughout including some flashback scenes where it plays into Griffin’s past and her motivation to find Tui. There are twists and turns that happens throughout the miniseries where it does reach a climax that isn’t just horrifying but also maintains an air of ambiguity where some answers are revealed though are also questions that don’t get answered. Overall, Jane Campion, Garth Davis, and Gerard Lee create a hypnotic yet engrossing suspense-drama that explores the world of demons and dark secrets.

Cinematographer Adam Arkapaw does excellent work with the look of the miniseries with its exotic blue-grey color to create an air of despair and uncertainty to many of the miniseries‘ locations as well as keeping things natural for the scenes at night and the scenes at the forest. Editors Alexandre de Franceschi and Scott Gray do fantastic work with the editing to give each episode some stylish cuts from jump cuts and fade-outs while building up the suspense with slow yet methodical cuts. Production designer Fiona Crombie does amazing work with the set pieces from the look of Parker‘s posh home to the more cabin-like home of Matt Mitcham that includes a drug lab under his bathroom.

Costume designer Emily Seresin does nice work with the costumes as a lot of it is mostly casual though the clothes do help out in establishing key parts of the film as it relates to clues about Tui‘s whereabouts. Sound designer Tony Vaccher does superb work with the sound to create an atmosphere in some of the party scenes as well as in the suspenseful moments to maintain that air of dread. The music by Mark Bradshaw is exquisite for its hypnotic mood with its plaintive sounds of guitar and piano to create a sense of melancholia and dread throughout the miniseries.

The casting by Kirsty McGregor is brilliant for the ensemble that is created for this miniseries. Notable appearances include Genevieve Lemon and Robyn Malcolm as a couple of women at the compound, Darren Gilshenan as the real estates agent Bob Platt who is hiding a dark secret about the town, Luke Buchanan as Tui’s friend Jamie, Mirrah Foulkes as Jamie’s mother Simone who also works for Mitcham, Kip Chapman and Jay Ryan as two of Mitcham’s adult sons, Calvin Tuteao as Jude Griffin’s Maori boyfriend, and Lucy Lawless as Platt’s wife who tells Robin about the secrets in Bob’s computer. Jaqueline Joe is excellent as the young girl Tui who finds herself the subject of a mysterious hunt about who the father of her baby is as she suddenly disappears. Robyn Nevin is wonderful as Robin’s mother Jude who is dealing with her illness while carrying a secret that would shake up Robin’s relationship with Johnno.

Thomas M. Wright is terrific as Matt’s estranged son Johnno who helps Robin out in finding Tui while dealing with his own issues as it relates to his relationship with Robin in the past as he yearns to start a new life for himself. Peter Mullan is great as the drug lord Matt Mitcham who is man eager to find his daughter while coming undone by her disappearance as he tries to hold on to his drug empire and finding some redemption. David Wenham is amazing as Detective Sgt. Al Parker who heads the investigation to find Tui while he being very ambiguous about his connection with Mitcham as well as his finances.

Holly Hunter is superb as GJ as she is just this very strange woman who is the head of a sanctuary as she says very weird things that would later prove to be helpful. Finally, there’s Elisabeth Moss in a remarkable performance as Robin Griffin where Moss brings a chilling intensity to a woman eager to find this young girl and face her own demons where Moss displays a sense of rawness and vulnerability to a role where a woman is trying to do something good in a chaotic world.

Top of the Lake is a phenomenal TV miniseries from Jane Campion, Garth Davis, and co-writer Gerard Lee that features top-notch performances from Elisabeth Moss, Peter Mullan, David Wenham, and Holly Hunter. It’s definitely one of Jane Campion’s fine works in terms of creating a suspense film led by a female protagonist while adding layers that makes the project far more compelling. It’s also a very provocative miniseries that explores a dark underworld as well as secrets that people don’t want to unveil. In the end, Top of the Lake is a fantastic TV miniseries from Jane Campion, Garth Davis, and Gerard Lee.

Jane Campion Films: Sweetie - An Angel at My Table - The Piano - The Portrait of a Lady - Holy Smoke! - In the Cut - Bright Star - (Top of the Lake-China Girl) - The Power of the Dog - The Auteurs #25: Jane Campion

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