I am velvety-smoothReview is BELOWI am veltely smooth, too
DVD: Leverage, Season 1 (2008)
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1 (NTSC)

July 14, 2009



Genre: Suspense / Comedy / Caper / TV  
An ex-employee of an insurance conmpany heads a team of con artists to help those wronged by corporate scumbags.  



Directed by:

Dean Devlin, Marc Roskin, Jonathan Frakes, Jeremiah S. Chechik, Rod Hardy
Screenplay by: Chris Downey, John Rogers, Amy Berg, Christine Boylan, Albert Kim, Melissa Glenn, Jessica Rieder
Music by: Joseph LoDuca
Produced by: Paul F. Bernard, Phillip M. Goldfarb

Timothy Hutton, Gina Bellman, Christian Kane, Beth Riesgraf, Aldis Hodge, Mark Sheppard, and Keven Tighe.

Film Length: 584 mins
Process/Ratio: 1.78:1
Anamorphic DVD: Yes
Languages:  English Dolby Digital 5.1
Special Features :  

Audio Commentaries on each episode / Deleted Scenes on Each Disc / Featurettes: “Leverage: Behind the Scenes” (12:39) + “Anatomy of a Stunt Fight” (3:22) + “The Cameras of Leverage” (2:12) + “Leverage Gets Renewed” (2:51) + “Beth Riesgraf Crazy Actress Spoof Video” (5:00)

Comments :

Caper TV series, be they anchored around espionage (Mission: Impossible), multiple jewel robberies (Heist), helping the innocents (The A-Team), con artists (Hustle), or an elaborate score (Thief) must have a balance of compelling characters, an ongoing character arc, and stories based somewhat in reality, or the whole concept collapses.

Created by Chris Downey (The Core, Catwoman) and John Rogers (The King of Queens) for the TNT network, and produced by Dean Devlin (Godzilla), Leverage is a giddy and engaging amalgam of several caper/con ideas, with major seams smoothened out by sharp writing and a dry sense of humour inherent to American television.

Showrunners Downey and Rogers have crafted a series based around the sometimes testy cooperation of talent-specific geniuses who use various methods of deception to aid victims of insurance scams, greedy banks, and nefarious con artists.

The show’s tone is also rooted in the slick, breezy style of seventies caper films (The Hot Rock) as well as the Oceans 11 and Italian Job series, where elements of danger do not include graphic blood-letting, torture, or sadism. The real drama lies in the seething personal problems of the group’s leader, Nathan / Nate Ford (Timothy Hutton), a self-described “functioning alcoholic” whose past issues cause his team to lose a bit of faith near the end of the first season.

Nathan’s reason for founding Leverage, a company that helps people screwed by greedy bastards, didn’t stem from a personal appetite for need for money. When the massive insurance company for which he worked denied coverage for his son’s unique medical treatment, the boy died, and the event destroyed Nathan’s self-worth, his marriage, and drew him to the bottle.

The pilot episode has a supposedly earnest figure, Victor Dubenich (Saul Rubinek), hiring Nathan to supervise a team of eccentric con artists committed to retrieving corporate files that were stolen by a rival firm. The underlings include Alec Hardison (Aldis Hodge), a wise-cracking computer geek; Eliot Spencer (Keep Your Distance’s Christian Kane), a special ops man who loathes guns but finds a weird inner peace when engaging in risky hand-to-hand combat; Parker (Beth Riesgraf), a lithe thief and agile pickpocket with slight case of Asperger’s Syndrome; and Sophie Devereaux (Coupling’s Gina Bellman), a terrible actress whose best performances only come to light when she’s engaged in an elaborate con.

When the group returns serious payback to Dubenich, they also discover they kind of had fun sticking it to a fellow thief, and Nathan decides to use the riches gleaned from the Dubenich con to establish Leverage, an outfit that will return lost goods, stolen money, or exact some payback to genuine innocents.

Nathan’s operation – stealing from con artists and immoral scumbags by using more refined tricks of the trade – and helping the genuinely unfortunate somewhat recalls John Sayles’ short-lived series Shannon’s Deal, a 1990 drama that had a similarly affected corporate figure – an elite lawyer now jobless and fractured by a broken marriage – using his skills to help ordinary folks screwed by corporate villains.

Intentional or not, by establishing Nathan as a flawed leader whose seething personal issues eventually threaten the stability of his new venture, Leverage’s first season undoubtedly had to conclude with a confrontation between Nathan and the corporate villains that ruined his life (and essentially killed his son). That collision is hinted at throughout the season when old nemesis Jim Sterling (slick and slimy Mark Sheppard) reappears in a few episodes to taunt Nathan’s sense of power and invulnerability.

There’s also the potential romance between Nathan and Sophie, since they share a past when he was stationed in Europe to handle art scams and thefts, but his devotion to the drink weakens his chances at reconnecting with someone who would clearly bring affection into his barren personal life.

Nate’s alcoholism is handled with a novel combination of sincerity and humour in “The 12-Step Job,” where he has to ‘pretend’ to be a drunk in an addiction clinic, and Sophie masquerades as the help group’s lead shrink. That episode is an excellent example of the writers avoiding maudlin melodrama, and avoiding a pat finale where Nate is quickly cured. His alcoholism has to remain an ongoing struggle because it’s central to Nate’s growth as a character, as well his past and present relationships.

Although Sophie, Eliot and Nathan have traveled the world, the show’s events are restricted to the United States, which ensures Leverage doesn’t get too gimmicky by having characters easily glide in and out of foreign lands in a post-9/11 era.

In one episode, Eliot goes as far as impersonating a U.S. Air Marshall, but staying within U.S. means the series writers don’t have to think of ridiculous conceits that allow the quintet to bypass present-day security measures that change several times a year at airports and border crossings.

(Keeping it local also makes the show attractive escapism for post 9/11 audiences, because Leverage is set in a less paranoid world where terrors and threats are largely restricted to identifiable corporate villains, and not religious, nationalistic monsters.)

The Leverage crew also uses their wits and special skills to deceive and con their targets rather than yanking off latex masks that manage to transform a wearer into a perfect double – a conceit that made the Mission: Impossible series rather silly.

The only conceits that viewers have to accept are the radio ear-buds that allow the Leverage crew to stay in contact, but also talk amonst each other loudly and in public, sometimes inches away from their victim; and the near-perfect lifting of wallets, phones, statues, and assorted devices that are scanned, copied, and quickly returned to owners without an ounce of suspicion.

To give the characters’ sleight of hand credibility, the production engaged Apollo Robbins as a consultant, and the writers based some of the cons on real cases; the writers' dramatic license seems to be most prominent in the way the characters manage to coordinate movements with perfect precision, and avoid getting caught by split second movements, and lots of luck.

Limited to 13 episodes, Season 1 manages to offer compelling tales of retribution and justice without getting repetitive, and Nathan’s personal issues in the season finale also bring forth his ex-wife Maggie Collins (Invasion’s Kari Matchett), with whom he must come clean with a secret.

The show’s funky sound comes from veteran Joseph LoDuca, whose own jazz background adds elaborate rhythms, heavy keyboards, and electrified bass.

Shot primarily in Portland, Oregon, the location work manages to convey enough disparate locations, as well as striking city architecture. Just as noteworthy is the cinematography that, like productions such as Gamer (2009), really shows off the beautiful colours and sharp details that have made the Red camera popular for HD productions.

Credited directors include Devlin, Jeremiah Chechik (Chuck), Rod Hardy (Battlestar Galactica), and Jonathan Frakes, who also has a cameo in one episode, and directs Star Trek: The Next Generation alumnus Brent Spiner in one of the season’s strongest episodes, “The Juror #6 Job,” which also co-stars Lauren Holly (Picket Fences).

Extras on Paramount’s DVD include several featurettes: “Anatomy of a Stunt Fight” shows the rehearsal of a combat scene with Elliot (Kane) and a hired goon in an airport hangar; “Behind the Scenes” is a standard promo featurettes that covers the series' creation, characters, and Apollo Robbins’ involvement; “The Cameras of Leverage” pay homage to the Red and Sony HD cameras, as well as the show’s slick look; “Leverage Gets Renewed” is a wired staff meeting where the cast is told they’ve been renewed for a second season; and “Beth Riesgraf Crazy Actress Spoof Video” is a short film that has the actress pitching a weird character concept  - “Sharker” - to the show’s writers.

There’s also a collection of deleted scenes, extensions, and trims, and audio commentaries by the cast/crew for each episode.

For an interview with series composer Joseph LoDuca, click HERE.


© 2010 Mark R. Hasan

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