The Red Road: TV review

Sundance's moody new drama evokes indie films in all the wrong ways

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Photograph: Tina RowdenJason Momoa in The Red Road
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Photograph: James MinchinMartin Henderson in The Red Road
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Photograph: James MinchinJulianne Nicholson in The Red Road
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Photograph: Tina RowdenKiowa Gordon and Allie Gonino in The Red Road
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Photograph: Tina RowdenTom Sizemore in The Red Road
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Photograph: Tina RowdenMartin Henderson in The Red Road
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Photograph: Tina RowdenJason Momoa and Arturo Fonts in The Red Road
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Photograph: Tina RowdenMartin Henderson and Mike Farrell in The Red Road
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Photograph: Tina RowdenJason Momoa in The Red Road
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Photograph: James MinchinTamara Tunie in The Red Road
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Photograph: Tina RowdenIrv Nesbitt, Boo Arnold, Julianne Nicholson and Martin Henderson in The Red Road
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Photograph: James MinchinKiowa Gordon and Allie Gonino in The Red Road
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Photograph: James MinchinAnnalise Basso in The Red Road
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Photograph: Tina RowdenNick Gomez and Martin Henderson in The Red Road
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Photograph: James MinchinJason Momoa in The Red Road
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Photograph: James MinchinJulianne Nicholson and Martin Henderson in The Red Road
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Photograph: Tina RowdenAnnalise Basso and Martin Henderson in The Red Road
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Photograph: Tina RowdenMartin Henderson and Jason Momoa in The Red Road
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Photograph: Tina RowdenLogan Liu and Arturo Fonts in The Red Road
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Photograph: James MinchinTamara Tunie and Gary Farmer in The Red Road
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Photograph: Tina RowdenBoo Arnold, Julianne Nicholson and Irv Nesbitt in The Red Road
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Photograph: James MinchinLisa Bonet and Jason Momoa in The Red Road
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Photograph: James MinchinTamara Tunie, Kiowa Gordon and Jason Momoa in The Red Road
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Photograph: James MinchinJason Momoa and Kiowa Gordon in The Red Road
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Photograph: James MinchinTamara Tunie and Kiowa Gordon in The Red Road
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Photograph: Tina RowdenMartin Henderson in The Red Road
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Photograph: James MinchinAllie Gonino in The Red Road
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Photograph: Tina RowdenMartin Henderson and Jason Momoa in The Red Road

Premieres Thursday, February 27 at 8:00pm on Sundance.

As it ventures into the world of scripted television, the Sundance Channel seems to be carving out a programming niche that's part AMC, part something you might see at the Sundance Film Festival. With The Red Road, they offer up a crime drama that's so heavily steeped in mood that its better qualities struggle to shine through.

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Set in small town outside of New York City, The Red Road draws upon the conflict of the local Lenape Indian tribe that is fighting to be federally recognized and the surrounding non-Native population. Local cop Harold Jensen (Martin Henderson) finds himself in the midst of a scandal that could ignite a long-smoldering flame in the conflict between the two communities. This leads Harold into a dangerous and unlikely accord with Phillip Kopus (Jason Momoa), a Lenape Tribe member and ex-con that has just returned to town after getting out of jail.

Creator Aaron Guzikowski (Prisoners) comes off as the type of writer who has immersed himself in the world of indie cinema and taken all the wrong cues away from it, focusing more on style than substance. While The Red Road is gorgeous to look at, and the ideas behind it can be intriguing, it gets mired in attempts to string out what little plot is there over a six episode first season.

The series does have the benefit of an incredibly capable core cast who can make the frequent dull moments sparkle. Momoa's Kopus is almost reason enough to watch. He struts menacingly through the woods, delivering threats without ever having to raise his voice. Henderson fares worse, mostly because Harold is an absolute bore of a character that spends more time reacting to what's happening around him than influencing it. Julianne Nicholson manages a tricky balancing act as Harold's wife, Jean, a recovering alcoholic whose addiction was masking an even darker issue.

Murder, mental illness, addiction, grief, blackmail: The Red Road has it all. And yet, despite being packed with meaty content, the show spends a lot of time spinning its wheels in an arty style that quickly wears thin.

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