Jason Momoa has had one of the strangest career trajectories in Hollywood, notching up roles in the likes of Baywatch Hawaii (who knew?), Stargate Atlantis and Game of Thrones, before landing his biggest break yet by securing the role of Aquaman in next year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Now he takes centre-stage in the first season of The Red Road (eOne), a malevolent six-part thriller set in the Ramapo Mountains, in the border area between New York and New Jersey. After his release from prison Native American ex-con Phillip Kopus (Momoa) returns to the reservation where he grew up, and gets reacquainted with his mother Marie Van Der Veen (Tamara Tunie, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) and his step siblings. Meanwhile, embattled local cop Harold Jensen (Martin Henderson, Little Fish) is struggling to keep his fragmented family together as his recovering alcoholic wife Jean (Julianne Nicholson, Law & Order: Criminal Intent) veers in and out of psychiatric treatment. When Jean is involved in a car accident on the reservation the two worlds literally collide, and old secrets and resentments soon bubble to the surface.
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Written by Aaron Guzikowski, whose previous screenplay credits include the underrated Mark Wahlberg thriller Contraband (2012) and Denis Villeneuve’s gruelling, gripping kidnap drama Prisoners (2013), The Red Road is one of the most intriguing new shows to emerge in recent months. Henderson does a good job as the conflicted blue collar cop, but it is Momoa’s brooding intensity that effortlessly carries the show. The manipulative, compromised role of Kopus is almost certainly the best of his career, and successfully vanquishes memories of 2011’s Conan the Barbarian!
Tom Sizemore is well utilised in another one of his menacing degenerate supporting roles – Phillip’s deadbeat father in this case – and the whole enterprise has a slick, cinematic feel. (Indeed, James Gray [The Yards, We Own The Night] directed the first episode.) Tense and edgy throughout, The Read Road builds up to an explosive final scene that hints at an even more complicated future for the two protagonists. Well worth checking out.
Through a quirk of scheduling, Jason Momoa also appears in this week’s second release, Road to Paloma (Anchor Bay), which he also wrote and directed. Momoa stars as Robert Wolf, a Native American who flees from the authorities after exacting revenge on the gang who brutally attacked and murdered his mother. While on the run from tenacious FBI Agent Williams (Timothy V. Murphy, Sons of Anarchy) he meets Cash (co-writer Robert Homer Mollohan), an itinerant musician, and the pair become unlikely friends, setting out in search of a twisted version of redemption.
Despite being produced by WWE Studios, for long stretches Road to Paloma is more wide-eyed indie drama than numbskulled action flick, and the slow pace means that the film never quite takes off. After The Red Road I was optimistic that Road to Paloma wouldn’t be a complete write-off, but in truth, the end project is pretty ropey.
The vivid backdrop of trailer parks and reservations is well-rendered, and Timothy Murphy’s scenes carry a welcome undercurrent of menace, but most of Momoa’s scenes are dangerously self-indulgent. The suspicion that Road to Paloma is a pure, unadulterated vanity project is merely underlined when Momoa’s wife Lisa Bonet (The Cosby Show and The Red Road, coincidentally) pops up for a random soft-focus sex scene! All in all: a B-movie curio from a man destined to go on to bigger and better things.