By David Watson

“Folks talk about morality like it’s black and white,” Lenny James’ dirty cop Joe Geddes tells Mark Strong’s slightly less dodgy cop and morally conflicted hero Frank Agnew in the first episode of AMC’s Low Winter Sun as he seeks to justify the murder they’re about to commit, the murder of Joe’s partner, really, really dirty cop, Brendan McCann (Michael McGrady). “Or maybe they think they’re smarter, or they’re at a cocktail party acting all pretentious, and then they say it’s grey. But you know what it really is? It’s a damn strobe, flashing back and forth and back and forth all the time.”

An American reimagining of 2006’s two-part Channel 4 miniseries, the mean streets Strong’s Frank Agnew must walk down in Low Winter Sun have switched From Edinburgh’s Auld Reekie to a Detroit much like the one Paul Verhoeven envisaged in Robocop and star Strong seems more comfortable with an American accent than he does with the Scottish one he adopted in the original show but the noirish gears of the big clock he finds himself caught up in are essentially the same.

As in the original, Frank is an essentially good man and great cop whose ruin lies in his love for a young prostitute murdered (so Joe says) by the corrupt Brendan.  Together Frank and Joe plot the perfect murder, killing Brendan and making it look like a booze-and-drug addled suicide.  This isn’t a spoiler, it’s how the series begins.  But, as with all best laid plans, their scheme soon starts to unravel when Frank winds up investigating the murder he’s committed and realises that Joe may be playing him for a sucker when they discover the dismembered corpse of an informant in Brendan’s car.  With the bodies mounting up, Frank and Joe at each other’s throats, silky Internal Affairs investigator Boyd (David Constabile of Damages and Breaking Bad) sniffing around and Frank and Joe’s shrewd colleague Dani (Athena Karkanis) increasingly suspicious, it can only be a matter of time before the truth comes out.  Meanwhile, in the crime-ridden neighbourhood of Greektown, Brendan’s criminal partners, small-time crook Damon (James Ransone), his wife Maya (Sprague Grayden) and twitchy war vet Nick (Billy Lush) are carving themselves a niche in direct opposition to local godfather Skelos (Alon Aboutboul) for whom Brendan and Joe were creatively covering up a series of murders.  As his world closes in and the two cases collide, who can Frank trust?

Part of the recent wave of quality US cable dramas treading water in the wake of shows like The Wire, The Sopranos and Mad Men and being touted as the successor to Breaking Bad, Low Winter Sun with its brooding cop protagonists, nervy, on edge wannabe gangsters, their tortured moral ambiguities and conflicting loyalties, is closer to shows like The Shield or Paul Haggis’ groundbreaking and prematurely murdered EZ Streets.  With directors including Ernest Dickerson and Catherine Hardwicke, the show has a moody, cinematic look and feel, Strong, James and Constabile dance elegantly around each other and are ably supported by Ransone, Karkanis, Lush and Grayden’s steely, blue collar Lady Macbeth while Jennifer Ehle is so astonishingly good in just one episode as Frank’s bitter ex-wife, if there’s a second series, I want to see more of her and Strong together.

While at times it feels a little like James Ellroy-lite and could do with growing a sense of humour, Low Winter Sun is a dark, solidly enjoyable, tangled web of dark deeds and street justice.

VERDICT: [rating=4]

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