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A Man in Full Review


A Man in Full Review


Summary

  • Tom Wolfe’s
    A Man in Full
    doesn’t age well as a series, lacking depth and character development, and feeling very dated.
  • The overacting in the show detracts from the already weak premise, making it cartoonish and unrelatable.
  • Stellar cast members like Diane Lane and Lucy Liu are underused, leaving the series feeling empty and disjointed.



“At the end of the day, a man’s gotta shake his balls,” muses Atlanta real estate tycoon Charlie Croker (Jeff Daniels) in a voiceover in the first episode of A Man in Full. That’s the first hint that Tom Wolfe’s lengthy 1998 bestseller doesn’t age well or translate that effectively onto the screen. Creator David E. Kelley, who has mastered precision storytelling in The Practice, Big Little Lies, The Lincoln Lawyer, and so many other memorable series, does what he can here — kudos to the stellar cast — but ultimately, you never really care why our protagonist wants to shake his privates, as it were.


America has been through far too much since Wolfe’s tome first dropped. There was a time when men like Charlie were revered. The middle-aged mogul has buildings with his name on it. He’s got minions adhering to his every whim. A younger second wife understands his eccentricities. He struts around confidently with nary a prostate concern. In the Trump era, this kind of self-involved man, somebody who barks out orders and is far too impressed with himself, has become more than tiresome. If there is an underlying fascination about such creatures, it may be the sheer fact that nobody has tossed their behind onto a therapist’s chair and forced them to look more deeply at their own motivations, or how their dangerous actions affect others.


But a story must be told and in this one, the real estate titan faces sudden bankruptcy and a gaggle of political and business deals that go awry. When a prominent bank comes knocking, demanding that Charlie repay the more than a billion dollars in debt he’s accrued, Charlie’s empire faces collapse. But why should we care? The odd thing about the series, in which Regina King (One Night in Miami) and Thomas Schlamme (The West Wing, Snowfall) share directing duties, is that it never finds solid footing. It flits about, celebrating Charlie’s alpha-male idiosyncrasies, foregoing depth, character development, and better use of its great cast — Diane Lane, Lucy Liu, Tom Pelphrey, Aml Ameen, Chanté Adams, and William Jackson Harper.


(Overacting) White Men Can’t Trump


A Man in Full chronicles the last 10 days of our Atlantan good ol’ boy. A gunshot welcomes us into the opening sequence, then we find Charlie apparently dead on a rug. What happened? Flashing back, we arrive at his birthday bash with Shania Twain on the ticket. Troubles arise when Raymond Peepgrass (Pelphrey), an underpaid loan officer, teams up with the head of the bank’s asset management department, Harry Zale (Bill Camp), to take Charlie down. The bank wants its money back, but Charlie leans into habit. He’s so used to charming his way out of things, or, in this case, another loan extension. He’s flabbergasted that the bank won’t change course. Like many successful businessmen of his ilk, he wants to trump his enemies.

This could make for an otherwise fine premise were it not for the fact that Daniels, an obviously remarkable actor, plays Charlie way over the top. The script offers him no choice perhaps, but when Pelphrey and Camp follow suit, the outing turns entirely too cartoonish. It’s hard to imagine people in real life overreacting the way these fellas do. Pelphrey’s character is the biggest eyesore, whittling away at the story’s integrity. The series itself cannot decide if its drama, comedy-drama, satirical camp, or some curious reflection on how power corrupts.


Related: 10 Comedy Drama Series That Strike the Same Balance as Succession

Jon Michael Hill Is Great in a Pointless Subplot

As we move through the episodes, the show becomes a battle about whether Charlie can outmaneuver the bankers or if they can stay one step ahead of him. Meanwhile, several subplots feel out of place here. In fact, given some more time and attention, they would make for a fine premise for their own outings. One of them revolves around Charlie’s assistant, Jill (Adams), whose husband, Conrad (Jon Michael Hill), gets arrested in a racially fueled police incident. Charlie assigns his in-house counsel, Roger (Ameen) to handle that case, much to his frustration.


These scenes bring us into the complex prison system and were it not for Hill’s exceptional performance, it’s challenging to justify why this story arc exists, other than to illuminate the importance of bringing about justice. That doesn’t jive with the main story, which goes out of its way to cherish Charlie’s lavish wealth and clever schemes.

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When Story Arcs Collide


The series’ latter episodes find Diane Lane getting more to do, but not much. The actress was a treasure in the recent round of Feud, but here, playing Charlie’s ex-wife Martha, she’s not given all that much material. Neither is Lucy Liu. The series fails in using the stellar talents of these fine actresses, who deserve better. When Lane’s Martha bonds with Pelphrey’s Raymond, there’s a hint that the series might explore some well-needed character development and depth, but with only six episodes and Wolfe’s book already trimmed down considerably, that opportunity is lost.

Related: Jeff Daniels’ 8 Best Performances, Ranked

You get the sense that this series could have been a fine successor to Succession. At least that series gave us a protagonist we got to know more fully and could relate to on some level — the man, the father, the businessperson plotting out the legacy he’d leave behind. Not so here. Further weighing down the tale is that other story arcs collide into the main thread. Roger is also dragged into a plan to thwart a right-wing politician by his former classmate, Wes (Harper), who is at the top of his game as mayor.


Between its disjointed storytelling and lost opportunities to effectively create a main character we either care about, root for, or identify with on some level, A Man in Full ultimately feels very empty. A Man in Full is streaming on Netflix. Watch it through the link below:

Watch A Man in Full

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