Max’s Soderbergh Thriller Full Circle is Dull, Confusing, and Emotionally Empty

TV Reviews Full Circle
Max’s Soderbergh Thriller Full Circle is Dull, Confusing, and Emotionally Empty

“This is a fucking shitshow,” says one of the many characters early on in Max’s new noir-drama Full Circle—which applies as an accurate description for the rest of the miniseries. 

Although created by such dexterous and accomplished professionals as Ed Solomon and Steven Soderbergh (who last worked together on another similar Max project, No Sudden Move), Full Circle is both ordinary and underwhelming throughout its six episodes. It’s no coincidence that the series feels very much like a routine job, a potboiler, with little passion and heart, because it certainly is one. There’s absolutely nothing here that Solomon and Soderbergh haven’t done before with a much better outcome.

The first red flag should have been Dennis Quaid’s scandalous ponytail that he rocks at 69, and no one even raises an eyebrow at how ridiculous that is. Unfortunately, the same goes for the plot, which is no less outrageous. In the pilot, we spend an hour getting familiar with a myriad of shady characters in New York City who are preparing to kidnap a wealthy couple’s kid to break a curse their superstitious Guyanese boss, Mrs. Mahabir (CCH Pounder), believes to be inflicted upon her entire family since her husband died. We aren’t sure how or why that is (the details and motivations are unclear), but we’re supposed to go with it because the plot tells us to.

This nonsense curse is what drives the entire kidnapping scheme, for which Mahabir brings in two teenagers, Xavier (Sheyi Cole) and Louis (Gerald Jones), from Guyana to get the job done with the help of her underlings, who seem powerful and fearsome people of NYC’s underworld. One of them is Mahabir’s adamant nephew, Aked (Jharrel Jerome), who acts slick, but clearly doesn’t have the brains for the assignment. It’s mostly on him that the Guyanese boys end up kidnapping the wrong child, which leads to a series of events going awry and overcomplicating the entire situation. Thanks to this necessary mishap, Full Circle opens up to a web of convoluted relations, strange allegiances, and long-buried secrets that were kept hidden for good reason. Naturally, those secrets will come out, eventually, and the involvement of law enforcement—including the United States Postal Inspection Service—becomes unavoidable. Multiple strings lead back to the past, where ugly truths lie waiting to be exposed.

It’s after the botched abduction that Full Circle poses a slightly intriguing dilemma. After the rich couple, Sam (Claire Danes) and Derek Brown’s (Timothy Olyphant) son, Jared (Ethan Stoddard), returns home safe from a late-night sneak-out, they have to decide whether they want to save an innocent child they don’t know before the kidnappers find out about their mistake. Of course, the main reason the pair is involved at all is their connection to Sam’s father, Chef Jeff (Quaid and his ponytail), a rich, narcissistic celebrity figure managed by his daughter and son-in-law.

This is the kind of moral and ethical quandary that could make us invest real feelings in the characters. But much like the show’s other themes, it goes largely unexplored. Solomon is more interested in matter-of-fact actions, even if they completely lack any emotional resonance we could possibly relate to. While the writing makes the dots between the characters connect through a carefully constructed script, their relationships are so emotionally dry, uninspiring, and lifeless that it becomes challenging to engage with them on a deeper level.

Due to this dull writing, it’s a slog to get through most of the episodes. It also doesn’t help that most of the characters are unlikable, dumb, or simply annoying by design, regardless of which terrific actor (and there are a few) is playing them. The dynamic between groups (whether victims or criminals) feels mechanical, and there’s little room to deliver anything out of the ordinary acting-wise. The undoubtedly stellar cast (including such greats as Dennis Quaid, William Sadler, Claire Danes, and a few younger talents like Zazie Beetz and Jharrel Jerome) is completely wasted on a story that’s rather dreary, tedious, and pretentiously serious than captivating.

Soderbergh’s touch as a director through all six episodes doesn’t contribute much to raising the stakes or creating suspense, either, which the show desperately needs. The camera work is pretty basic, often employing the filmmaker’s well-known shaky, handheld docu-style that just doesn’t seem to fit the prestigious drama angle Full Circle is going for. What usually works in his high-octane thrillers and crime-capers makes this miniseries fall flat, and feel cheaper than it should.

Overall, it’s evident that Solomon feels more at home writing light-hearted and high-concept blockbusters than deadly-serious, bleak crime tales depicting intricate connections and thorny relationships. Although his pairing with Soderbergh brought us a few critically acknowledged projects (such as Mosaic, No Sudden Move, and now this), the lack of a similar consensus from audiences shows that the result of their collaboration is definitely not for everyone.

It’s even hard to find a reason to justify what Max saw in this series before they green-lit it beyond the creators’ extensive resume. Perhaps their names were enough to grant them a decent budget and creative freedom to do as they please. Either way, given the talent involved both behind and in front of the camera, Full Circle is a disappointing, monotonous, and confusing mess that any non-hardcore fan of its writer and director duo should avoid.

The first two episodes of Full Circle premiere Thursday, July 13th on Max.

Akos Peterbencze is an entertainment writer based in London. He covers film and TV regularly on Looper, and his work has also been published in Humungus, Slant Magazine, and Certified Forgotten. Akos is a Rustin Cohle aficionado and believes that the first season of True Detective is a masterpiece. You can find him talk about all-things pop culture on Twitter (@akospeterbencze) and Substack (@akospeterbencze).

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