Sunday, June 16, 2024

Review: Nicole Kidman, Hugh Grant Are Terrific in HBO Mystery Mini-Series, “The Undoing,” So Are the Overcoats


I don’t mean to minimize “The Undoing,” a taut mystery mini-series starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant. I’ve watched 5 episodes but not the ending yet. HBO PR left us with a cliffhanger after that 5th episode. But before we talk about the cinematic qualities, first we must discuss the overcoats: I want them, all of them, men’s and women’s. The costumes, the furnishings, everything. These characters are RICH, old school New York wealthy, very subtle, and wow, who lives like this? It’s dazzling in its elegance.

So okay. Nicole is a shrink named Grace, whose father, played by Donald Sutherland, is a New York lion. Wall Street? Banking? Real estate? He has a great mane of white hair, a deep resonant voice, and he plays classical piano in his football field sized living room. He has a staff, too, maids galore! I want him to adopt me. (He must live at like 730 Park or something. We are in the stratosphere.)

Grace’s husband, Jonathan (Hugh Grant, just great) is a pediatric oncologist. Admired, front page of New York magazine, that sort of thing. They have a perfect 12 year old played by Noah Jupe who goes to a $50,000 a year Upper East Side school and plays the violin almost as well as Itzhak Perlman. Everyone has a car and a driver. Grace’s BFF is a corporate lawyer played by Lily Rabe, who really needs to a Star by now.

The Undoing is based on a novel called “You Should Have Known” by Jean Hanff Korelitz. Susanne Bier directed the mini series based on a screenplay by David E. Kelley, who gave us “Private Practice” on TV and was once a lawyer so he was attracted to the murder mystery here and its legal ramifications. In short, Jonathan’s mistress is killed and he’s accused. But it’s unclear if he did it. The way Kelley writes it, everyone could be a suspect including the waiters (one of whom worked at Elaine’s for real!).

The screenplay is so sophisticated that they even named a sub minor character after the philanthropist Rebekah Harkness, who was married to the heir to Standard Oil and actually lived at 730 Park. Someone here did their research.

Did Jonathan kill the mistress, who by  the way he also fathered a child with? I don’t know yet. I would like to. All I know is this mini-series is done right. I don’t get the reviewers who didn’t think it was mysterious enough; it was for me. Maybe it could have been done in five episodes, but what’s the difference?

Nicole Kidman gives an Emmy worthy performance. She’s radiant and funny and direct and is a movie star who’s happened into a miniseries. Her performance, the character, and the whole thing are quite different than “Big Little Lies,” very different in fact. Don’t make the mistake that this is the same deal. It’s far from it. Kidman played a victim in that series. In this one, she’s very much in charge of her life and maybe everyone else’s. I liked seeing her this way. Kidman’s closeups are worth studying. She’s really at the tip top of her game. She is endlessly watchable.

Hugh Grant has not aged well. He’s three years younger than me and I don’t know, I guess he had a really good time on the way. But he’s turned into a much stronger actor, very powerful dramatically. Getting craggy has only helped him. And Donald Sutherland, well, he can read the dictionary and get awards.

Besides Lily Rabe, we have really good supporting work from Noah Jupe, Edgar Ramirez, and Noma Dumezweni, who Shonda Rhimes should be writing a series for right now. (She’s my new Aisha Hinds, a find, if you see.)

The whole Bier tone is very “The Night Of,” which lifts “The Undoing” well beyond the usual fare, and Bier’s own masterpiece, “The Night Manager.” Don’t be afraid of enjoying a series for once, dig the decadence, and please, someone tell me how to get Hugh’s top coat. (I love that he wears it on the prison bus. I thought he’d be mugged.)

A plus entertainment.


Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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