Series Review

'The Alienist': period psychological thriller leans towards the predictable

Despite a talented cast and production team, 'The Alienist' adds little new to the serial-killer-hunting genre despite being set in the Victorian era

29 April 2018 - 00:00

TNT's 10-episode adaptation of Caleb Carr's novel of the search for a New York serial killer in the last days of the 19th century is a frustrating, lavish and dark exploration of the Big Apple in its gritty, dirty and dark days.
It is executive produced by True Detective's Cary Fukunaga and features a writing team that includes Eric Roth (Forrest Gump, The Insider, Munich), writer-director John Sayles (Lone Star, Sunshine State) and Hossein Amini (Wings of the Dove).
Daniel Brühl is Dr Lazlo Kreizler - a proto-psychologist or "alienist". The term is taken from the thinking of the time that, as the opening credits inform us, "people suffering from mental illnesses were thought to have been alienated from their true natures. Experts who studied them were therefore known as alienists."
Kreizler is intense, enigmatic and obsessive, haunted by an incident that's left him with a withered hand.
When a killer starts targeting young male prostitutes, Kreizler with newspaper illustrator John Moore (Luke Evans), police secretary Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning) and Jewish twin-brother policemen Marcus and Lucius Isaacson (Douglas Smith and Matthew Shear) are clandestinely elected to investigate by new New York police commissioner and former university classmate of Kreizler's, Teddy Roosevelt (Brian Geraghty).
Their journey takes them from the slums and tenements to the brothels and the homes of New York's high-society families. They face their own demons, develop new forensic and investigation techniques and hope to God they find the killer before he finds them.

At a reported production cost of $5-million per episode The Alienist has much visual flair and detailed period recreation to ooh and ahh over. There's a tense, murky, muddy, otherworldliness that permeates the story.
This is very much a piece of Victorian-era noir and while it certainly has some Gothic elements, it's not a supernatural story. One of its pleasures comes from following the team's development of early techniques so common to us now but so very modern for their times.
The central team of Brühl, Evans and Fanning work well and their interactions provide for a suitably frustrating but ultimately effective combination.
WATCH : The trailer for The Alienist..

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