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"Low Winter Sun": The Complete Series DVD Review

Low Winter Sun: The Complete Series DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Low Winter Sun (2013)
Show & DVD Details

Creator: Simon Donald / Developer/Executive Producer: Chris Mundy / Producer: Charles S. Carroll

Writers: Chris Mundy, Dave Erickson, Brett C. Leonard, Damione Macedon, Raphael Jackson Jr., Ryan Farley, Melanie Marnich, Rolin Jones

Directors: Ernest Dickerson, Andrew Bernstein, Rosemary Rodriguez, Sam Miller, Stefan Schwartz, Catherine Hardwicke, Adam Davidson, Anthony Hemingway, Sam Miller

Regular Cast: Mark Strong (Detective Frank Agnew), Lennie James (Detective Joe Geddes), James Ransone (Damon Callis), Sprague Grayden (Maya Callis), Athene Karkanis (Detective Dani Khalil), Ruben Santiago-Hudson (Lieutenant Charles Dawson), David Costabile (Simon Boyd), Billy Lush (Nick Paflas)

Recurring Characters: Trevor Long (Sean Foster), Alon Moni Aboutboul (Alexander Skelos), Mickey Sumner (Katia), L. Scott Caldwell (Violet Geddes), Ryan Destiny (April Geddes), James Harvey Ward (Michael), Erika Alexander (Louise "LC" Cullen), Ron Cephas Jones (Reverend Lowdown/Isiah), Kimberly J. Brown (Shana Taylor), James Martinez (Detective John Hernandez), Michael McGrady (Brendan McCann), Sherman Augustus (A.P.A. Tim Curtright), Nickola Shreli (Gus), Joseph Kathrein (Steven), Richard Goteri (Raymond Lefevre), Samuel A. Brice (Poppa T), Kamal Angelo Bolden (Trey Jackson), Henrν D. Franklin (A-K)

Notable Guest Stars: Robert 7 Shannon (Billy), Jennifer Ehle (Susan)

Running Time: 429 Minutes (10 episodes) / Rating: Not Rated (TV-14 on air)

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen / Dolby Digital 5.1 (English) / Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Suggested Retail Price: $49.98 / DVD Release Date: August 12, 2014
Three single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9s) / Black Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Series Aired August 11 - October 6, 2013 / Also available on Amazon Instant Video

Buy Low Winter Sun: The Complete Series from Amazon.com: DVD • Instant Video

AMC's jump into respectable original programming was quick, seemingly effortless, and irreversible. Between "Mad Men", "Breaking Bad", and "The Walking Dead", the basic cable channel has established itself as arguably television's strongest brand. It's almost tough to remember that AMC used to stand for "American Movie Classics"
or that the channel used to be ridiculed for commercial-loaded broadcasts of recent movies most would hesitate to apply such a label to.

Subsequent AMC series haven't reached the same landmark status as the aforementioned 2007, 2008, and 2010 debuts. The high expectations set by the channel's three creative triumphs can be tough to live up to, but at least anything reaching the air on AMC doesn't need to fight to be taken seriously.

Expectations for "Low Winter Sun" were not only set by the high caliber of other AMC programs, but by the two-episode 2006 British miniseries it remade. This drama opens with two men carefully drowning a colleague and staging it to look like a "determined suicide." We come to see that the murderers and the deceased are not gangsters or crime lords, but officers of the Detroit Police Department's homicide division.

Detroit homicide detectives Frank Agnew (Mark Strong) and Joe Geddes (Lennie James) question an eyewitness who doesn't realize he saw them dispose of a murder victim's body.

The men behind that murder -- Frank Agnew (Mark Strong) and Joe Geddes (Lennie James) -- are seasoned, decorated detectives. They have their vices (among them, drugs and prostitutes), but also our sympathy as they try to get away with the seemingly justifiable and unprecedented disposal of Brendan McCann, a dirty alcoholic cop with larger than life demons. Agnew leads the investigation into the dirty cop's death, while internal affairs, led by the snotty Simon Boyd (David Costabile), heats up an investigation that was already scheduled for the day of McCann's disappearance.

Viewers privy to Agnew and Geddes' secret are shown the homicide division's procedures as well as the less scintillating related dealings of a young married couple (Sprague Grayden and James Ransone) who are growing more deeply involved in Detroit's drug and sex trades.

"Low Winter Sun" is engrossing from square one. It hooks us with a compelling mystery, which it thickens as our understanding of that series-opening act changes shape with every episode. The characters are complex and layered. Geddes, for instance, is a Jesuit seminary dropout whose Catholic faith and family bonds are both factors in his evolving notion of morality.

These events play out against an interesting backdrop of a city whose decline is well-known but not frequently dramatized. Even the police building is visibly dilapidated in a place whose population decline has coincided with rises in crime and economic hardship. The Motor City's ongoing troubles are reflected in the characters who make up the focal Greektown neighborhood of this shot-on-location production, like a young, traumatized military veteran (Billy Lush) living out of his car and being short-changed on $5-an-hour construction work; Frank's former partner (Trevor Long), now a drunken derelict he helps out; and an eyewitness to the crime (Richard Goteri) whose account is questioned over his insufficient child support and alimony payments to his two ex-wives.

The show spends more time than you might like with the Callises (Sprague Grayden and James Ransone), a young married couple who keep getting deeper in Detroit's crime scene.

Mark Strong, a character actor who has disappeared in all sorts of supporting roles in high-profile films like Sherlock Holmes, Kick-Ass, Green Lantern, and Zero Dark Thirty, seems to be taking a step forward by accepting the lead and top billing here. In a way, though, Strong is also taking a step back, by reprising this role he originated in the British version back when he was just on the cusp of breaking into films with cross-Atlantic appeal.
Strong engages in the lead role, but is somewhat upstaged by the less familiar Lennie James (Snatch, Sahara), who similarly shreds all evidence of his British origins.

The series is bolstered by its authenticity; the police department feels like a real work force in a real workplace. It probably helps that the core actors aren't recognizable from past work, but we don't get the sense that these are actors who might turn up on ABC Family or Lifetime if they didn't get these parts. Know that this show is not for the weak-stomached; it features grotesque violence and grisly imagery on a regular basis, though profanity and sex remain fairly mild compared to racier premium cable fare.

Two months after airing the season-ending tenth episode, AMC announced the cancellation of "Low Winter Sun." Oddly the channel's frequent home video partner, Anchor Bay Entertainment, only recently got around to releasing The Complete Series and even then, they did so only to DVD, not Blu-ray (though Amazon is still taking preorders for the HD format it now seems unlikely to surface on).

Frank (Mark Strong) and Joe (Lennie James) exchange words near the water where McCann's body is found. Internal affairs officer Simon Boyd (David Costabile) doesn't dial down his smugness at McCann's funeral.

Disc 1

1. Pilot (42:48) (Originally aired August 11, 2013)
Frank and Joe commit the act that drives the series, drowning a colleague and making it look like suicide. Internal affairs puts the department on edge. A drug-related murder occurs. McCann's body is found in his car, with another mutilated corpse in his trunk.

2. The Goat Rodeo (42:56) (Originally aired August 18, 2013)
Frank and Boyd observe McCann's autopsy, which leads to his death officially being ruled a homicide. Damon clears his plans to sell drugs with a local authority. Frank and Joe cover their tracks with fire.

3. No Rounds (42:55) (Originally aired August 25, 2013)
The truth about Katia, the missing prostitute Frank has feelings for, emerges. Cops attend McCann's funeral. Frank and Joe create doubt in an eyewitness' account.

4. Catacombs (42:56) (Originally aired September 1, 2013)
Frank's search for Katia leads him to Canada and a place called The Catacombs. Dani (Athene Karkanis) investigates the unmourned victim of the pilot's secondary murder. Joe tries to straighten out his teenage daughter, after she's brought in for shoplifting.

Katia (Mickey Sumner) is surprised to be chatting with the Detroit cop who's stuck on her. Frank's former partner Sean (Trevor Long) has hit dark times with substance-addled homelessness.

Disc 2

5. Cake on the Way (42:55) (Originally aired September 8, 2013)
Frank and Joe try to solve their murder by manipulating the facts. The department goes to cheer one of their own in a boxing match. The Callises' new bar is held up at gunpoint in an incident that turns deadly.

6. The Way Things Are (42:56) (Originally aired September 15, 2013)
Frank's search for Katia warms up, as he traces his love to Chicago. Damon deals with fallout from the bar incident. Frank sleeps with Dani.

7. There Was a Girl (42:56) (Originally aired September 22, 2013)
Damon is taken in for questioning with Frank ready to pin three killings on him. Joe confesses to a priest.

8. Revelations (42:56) (Originally aired September 29, 2013)
Frank lets his addict ex-partner crash at his place. Frank testifies in court for a different case. Boyd makes progress in McCann's murder. Joe reconnects with Katia.

Frank violates a restraining order to bring his ex-wife (Jennifer Ehle) into his drama. In a hotel parking lot, Damon Callis (James Ransone) recognizes a sudden threat.

Disc 3

9. Ann Arbor (42:56) (Originally aired October 6, 2013)
Frank goes rogue, contacting the victims of those whose cases have been falsely closed as suicide. He also visits his ex-wife (Jennifer Ehle) in Ann Arbor for some extreme tenseness, only to return home to a hero's welcome in Detroit.

10. Surrender (42:55) (Originally aired October 6, 2013)
The weight of a seemingly false confession hangs over Frank and others, as loose ends are tied up.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Like most new television series, "Low Winter Sun" looks good on DVD. The show sports a cinematic look, with the 1.78:1 visuals being dark, gritty, and contrasty. They are presented with no problems and though not terribly immersive, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is more than sufficient.

Athena Karkanis is among the cast members briskly interviewed in "A Look at 'Low Winter Sun.'" Ernest Dickerson directs in a genuine Detroit alley in "Detroit Grit."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Bonus features are relegated to the third and final disc of this set.

"A Look at 'Low Winter Sun'" (4:59) provides a general look at the series with clips and comments from cast and crew members.

Promotional shorts continue with "Detroit Grit" (2:49), which pays notice to the city in which the series is both set and shot.

Production designer Ruth Ammon shows us around the rundown precinct she designed. Chris Mundy, the executive producer who developed this series for US television, lends insight into one of the ten episodes in this "Inside" featurette.

"Designing the Precinct" (5:14) addresses production design,
with remarks from Ruth Ammon shedding light on the thought that went into making one of the show's chief locales look as it did.

Each episode is treated to an "Inside" featurette, which serves up cast and crew comments specific to the episode, which is liberally excerpted too. These types of shorts are always a tad slight and obvious, but they're less demanding of your time than commentaries. Running 4-7 minutes each, these total 52 minutes and 32 seconds, though a "Play All" option is sadly not included. They also would have been of greater worth attached to the episodes they dissect instead of bundled on Disc 3.

Damon Callis (James Ransone) is just a baby-faced bookkeeper of the legitimate variety in this deleted scene shot for the pilot. Two unrelated clips often play in tandem on the DVD's animated main menu.

Finally, deleted scenes are included for every single episode. They include backstory on Damon's transition from legitimate business to crime and more looks at the love lives of Frank and the Callises.
Running 18 minutes and 18 seconds altogether (most episodes have 2 minutes or less of content, but the pilot has nearly nine), these also could have used a "Play All" option or placement alongside the episodes they were intended for.

Disc One opens with a promo for "The Walking Dead": The Fourth Season.

Each disc's main menu loops a couple of layers of clips in different places while score plays.

A swinging tray enables the three discs, each emblazoned with a different character, to share a standard-sized, insert-free Eco-Box keepcase, which is topped by a cardboard slipcover applying texture to characters and embossing the title of the same cover image.

Frank (Mark Strong) and Joe (Lennie James) try pinning their murder on rising criminal lowlife Damon Callis (James Ransone).

CLOSING THOUGHTS

"Low Winter Sun" provides one dark and reasonably absorbing season, without making you hunger for more. This AMC drama doesn't hook you like the best of television shows and occasionally makes you feel like you've missed an episode, but it probably compares to its developer's less serialized network procedurals like "Cold Case" and "Criminal Minds."

Anchor Bay's DVD gets the job done without anything too flashy. I'd recommend a viewing of the series for fans of crime drama and/or the cast. It's too bad a Blu-ray release probably won't be happening.

Buy Low Winter Sun: The Complete Series from Amazon.com: DVD / Instant Video

Buy from Amazon.com

Related Reviews:
Mark Strong: Sherlock Holmes • Stardust • Body of Lies • John Carter • Zero Dark Thirty • Kick-Ass • Sunshine • The Guard • The Way Back
Lennie James: Les Miserables (1998) • The Walking Dead: The Complete First Season | James Ransone: Prom Night
Sprague Grayden: Paranormal Activity 2 • Paranormal Activity 3 | Ruben Santiago-Hudson: Castle: The Complete First Season
AMC: The Killing: The Complete First Season • Breaking Bad: The Complete Second Season • Mad Men: Season 6
Rectify: Season 1 • Life on Mars: The Complete Series • The Fall: Series 1 • Magic City: The Complete First Season

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Reviewed August 26, 2014.



Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright Michigan Sun Productions, AMC Film Holdings, Tiger Aspect Productions, Man Woman & Child Productions,
Endemol, AMC Studios and 2014 Anchor Bay Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.