Sundance will be bringing us a British / French production this week entitled THE LAST PANTHERS. Set in several European countries, the six-episode series follows a jewel thief and those who would hunt him after the crime as he flees home to a dark underworld.
Goran Bogdan (Number 55) plays Milan Celik, the lead character, at least as far as I can tell. Milan is part of a trio that nab some diamonds in the exciting opening sequence, and it is Milan’s past and actions that provide most of the driving force of the plot. Will he get away with it? I don’t know, and I’m not even sure if I should root for him to do so or not.
Those chasing Milan aren’t the most likeable people, after all. Insurance adjuster Naomi Franckom (Samantha Morton, John Carter) seems OK, but her boss, Tom Kendle (John Hurt, Doctor Who, Merlin), is anything but kind. Police officer Khalil (Tahar Rahim, A Prophet) is in much the same position as Naomi, seeming much more competent and deserving than those above him. But then again, even without a direct supervisor, Milan comes across much more favorably than those he would or has worked for, too, so there’s a pattern.
The result is a chase through a criminal landscape, ripe with betrayals and executions and cheats and schemes. It’s a bit hard to follow if you aren’t paying attention, similar looking actors and frequent subtitles not helping much with that, but it’s also obvious to the beholder than THE LAST PANTHERS is a high quality production that deserves your attention.
The cast is quite compelling, with their smoldering glances and calculating eyes letting you know there is a lot going on. They also exist in the world with a realistic number of moving parts, which makes it hard for anyone to do anything without a dozen other people being affected by it. This means consequences could come from anywhere, and makes it hard for one character to rely on any other, but it also makes it authentic, and thus deeper than the average television series.
The setting is beautiful and gritty at once. Again, much care has gone into making it seem like THE LAST PANTHERS is in our own, actual world, and it succeeds at that. Car and foot chases find plenty of obstacles in the way, but when the action slows down, it’s even easier to appreciate what’s going on around the characters. The circles they move in may not always be the most pleasant to look at, but there’s a detailed quality that makes the program rise above its peers.
While the U.S. often gets mainly the best of British television (with some exceptions), THE LAST PANTHERS feels better than most imports. It has the quality of a well-respected international film, stretched to miniseries length in order to go both broader and more focused on what it is portraying. Whether it’s the way a tattoo plays with a certain group, or collateral damage among an innocent bystander, the show immediately feels fully fleshed out, and it is very easy to get sucked into.
The series also fits well with Sundance’s brand. Slow-burn character dramas, such as Rectify, are what the network does best, and it already has a history of bringing over productions from other countries, such as with Top of the Lake. I think the show itself is good enough to stand on its own, but in the company of other airings on Sundance, it likely has the best chance to find its target audience and succeed.
THE LAST PANTHERS airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on Sundance.