Strike Back is an action drama, writes David Chute, that continues to work effectively at both levels.
Actor Philip Winchester gets a nice showcase for the tightly-wound intensity of his character, SAS ninja Michael Stonebridge, in the sixth episode of the lean and mean Sky/Cinemax action drama “Strike Back” — reminding us in the process that this Mid-Atlantic adaptation of a hit British series has men at the top (writer-producer Frank Spotnitz and director-producer Daniel Percival) who take the drama side of the equation as seriously as the action stuff — which kicks ten kinds of ass on a weekly basis, with occasional sharp clicks up to eleven.
Stonebridge is emerging as a man who may have too many ties to the sanity of ordinary life to be able to execute his assignments with the level of prejudice that’s often required. Not without subjecting himself to a fair amount of emotional turmoil. “People die. I’m fine with that,” he says, arguing with Clare (Laura Haddock), a judgmental UN aid worker, visibly failing to convince even himself.
One of the key differences between Stonebridge and his revved up partner Damien Scott (Sullivan Stapleton) is the gulf that separates an earnest husband and father from a roguish bachelor — the difference between the “self-loathing” detected in Stonebridge by perceptive arms dealer Gerald Crawford (Game of Thrones’s Iain Glenn) and the bordering-on-suicidal despair that hums beneath the surface of Scott’s raunchiness, thanks to Sullivan’s excellent work bringing behavioral texture and depth to a role that in the lesser hands would be a sub-Martin Riggs cartoon.
I’ve been getting skeptical looks from friends who have never watched it when I tell them how good Strike Back is, and I can see their point. Very few shows of this type, in this genre, have attempted to weave such a dense pattern. And I wouldn’t want to discourage people from watching it who want nothing more or less than a suspenseful hard ride into cathartic action. All of the suprisingly complex supporting players in the current storyline–Glenn’s Crawford, Adewale Akinnuoye Agbaje’s militia monster and Haddock’s Clare, constantly bemoaning the levels of violence required to rescue her–play bass notes, or grace notes, in what is funadementally a hard-rocking tight piece of action showmanship, complete with smoke pots.