SHOW ME A HERO – REVIEW – The guy who did The Wire directed by the ex-scientologist who did Crash starring the guy who’s now flying x-wings and everyone says Yonkers every two minutes. What’s not to like?
‘Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy,’ said the expert American tragedian F. Scott Fitzgerald and David Simon, who has turned prime time television into something of novelistic richness, returns with a true story about affordable housing in Yonkers. Oscar Isaac plays Nick Wasicsko, a young Democratic councilman picked by his party to run against the popular incumbent (James Belushi). Without much of a hope or a particular vision – he agrees with his opponent about most things – he spots his opportunity when the Major decides not to appeal an unpopular court decision to build social housing in Yonkers, providing homes for hundreds of poor and inevitably black residents. Nick becomes the youngest major in America but soon discovers that the appeal he ran on is a non-starter and now it falls to him to work a way out of the deadlock and face down the mobs of citizens who see him as a political opportunist and traitor.
Simon and co-writer Bill Zorzi, adapting Lisa Belkin’s book, spread the story around so we see the lives of the real people effected by the housing decision. This included a woman from the Dominican Republic who finds life so hard in the US she considers moving her family back to the DR; an old black lady who is going blind; young pregnant women with their men in various states of incarceration and a concerned resident who wants to protect her neighborhood without admitting to the racism of the movement of which she is a vocal member. As with Treme and The Wire, the central story is simply the inciting incident to discover the rich complexity of American urban life which is Simon’s recurrent theme. He is genuinely interested in these lives and those who would have been background in, say a Tom Hanks film of the same story, are resolutely in the foreground. To compete with these stories, you need a good lead and Oscar Isaac once more shows himself to be one of the best actors working in America today. Following performances in Two Faces of January, A Dangerous Year, Ex Machina and Inside Llewyn Davis, his young politician is a brilliantly subtle piece of characterisation. At once a bright-eyed decent man, he is also full of inglorious vanity and a desperate need – which perhaps lies at the heart of many a politician – to be loved. An ex-cop who likes his booze and his Bruce Springsteen, his moral compass is always having to be reset against his ambition and his good humor and optimism is gradually being chipped away by the complex compromises and the public loathing that are heaped on him. In a wonderful brief moment of triumph, he breaks into one of the building sites just for the pleasure of sitting in a digger, like a child, and thinking ‘I did this’.
If television is truly in a golden age – and I fully believe it is – then one of the main architects has to be David Simon and it is heartening to see that he is being afforded the opportunity to make intensely felt, intelligent and witty drama.