Review: 'Full Circle' means to shake you, and it does

It’s complicated.

July 14, 2023, 4:11 AM
Jharrel Jerome and Adia in scene from the series, "Full Circle."
Jharrel Jerome and Adia in scene from the series, "Full Circle."
Max/Warner Bros.

It's complicated. I'm referring to explaining the gist of "Full Circle," Season 1 of the convoluted but consistently compelling six-episode limited series now on Max that investigates the gray areas between good and evil that lesser crime dramas ignore in favor of tying up loose ends.

"Full Circle" is all loose ends—some frustrating but most fascinating in their illustration of how action defines character. Director Steven Soderbergh, the "Traffic" Oscar winner, and writer Ed Solomon—they collaborated on 2021's "No Sudden Move"— keep you hanging on through a two-episode premiere on July 13, followed by two episodes each week until its finale on July 27.

The plot hinges on a botched kidnapping that is only the tip of the iceberg. Sam (Claire Danes) and Derek Browne (Timothy Olyphant) are Manhattan one-percenters who barely notice their teen son Jared (Ethan Stoddard) is missing until a ransom call comes in. The idea is that Sam's celebrity dad, Chef Jeff (Dennis Quaid in a ponytail), always has cash at the ready.

Lisa Janae, Timothy Olyphant and Claire Danes in scene from the series, "Full Circle."
Max/Warner Bros.

The kidnap plot is orchestrated by Savitri Mahabir (a superb CCH Pounder), a ladyboss with ties to the Guayana underworld who leaves the task to her unstable, fast-talking nephew Aked ("When They See Us" Emmy winner Jharrel Jerome). Big mistake.

Aked brings in his fiancé Natalia (Adia), a masseuse to Savitri, and two Guayana refugees, Natalia's brother Louis (Gerald Jones) and his friend Xavier (Sheyi Cole),

Bad idea, especially when Jared shows up at home and Louis and Xavier realize they've kidnapped the wrong boy, a Jared-lookalike named Nicky (Lucian Zanes) who's been stealing things from Jared, including his clothes and maybe even his life.

The plot further thickens when two U.S. postal inspectors—don't ask—are assigned to the case. Manny Broward (Jim Gaffigan) doesn't know how to handle his assistant, Harmony Melody (Zazie Beetz), whose disturbing psych evaluation tags her as a borderline personality.

That's not the half of it. Beetz and Gaffigan—a standup comic with real dramatic chops—are so good you'll follow them anywhere. You'll have to, so stay on your toes as the script gets itself in a tangle of decades-long, continent-hopping secrets and lies.

Wait, there's more. The mysterious Mrs. Mahabir isn't in it for a quick buck. In a supernatural plot twist, she is invested in ridding herself of a family curse that requires a human sacrifice to atone for sins committed in the past.

Timothy Olyphant, Claire Danes and Dennis Quaid in scene from the series, "Full Circle."
Max/Warner Bros.

In lesser hands, "Full Circle" would explode from throwing so many irons in the fire. But Soderbergh, Solomon and a cast that could not be better keep you riveted as themes from race and class to immigration warfare reverberate in your mind and heart.

This is Soderbergh at his gripping, captivating best even if you need a scorecard to keep track of characters who eventually connect in ways you won't see coming. The script ties the white privilege of right this very minute to the roots of colonialism which led indigenous people to become a minority in their own land.

In a digital landscape awash in cliches and lazy thinking, this series is an act of provocation, a thriller that searches for compassion among characters who've learned to bury feelings to survive. In the final scenes between Danes and Baetz, both terrific, those feelings grip you hard. "Full Circle" means to shake you, and does. You can't get it out of your head.