A Man in Full

A Man in Full
A Man in Full
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“In the end, a guy’s got to shake his balls,” says Atlanta real estate mogul Charlie Croker (Jeff Daniels) in a voiceover at the start of A Man in Full. That’s the first indication that Tom Wolfe’s sprawling 1998 bestseller doesn’t age well or translate all that effectively to the screen. Creator David E. Kelley, who has perfected precision storytelling on The Practice, Big Little Lies, The Lincoln Lawyer and so many other memorable series, does what he can here — kudos to the stellar cast — but ultimately, you don’t really care why our hero wants to shake his privates.

America has been through a lot since Wolfe’s tome hit shelves. There was a time when guys like Charlie were heroes. The middle-aged mogul has buildings with his name on it. He’s got underlings catering to his every whim. A younger second wife indulges his eccentricities. He struts around with nary a prostate concern in the world. In the Trump era, this kind of self-involved jerk-off, someone who barks out orders and is just too damned impressed with himself, has become beyond tiresome. If there is any underlying fascination with such creatures, it might be simply that no one has thrown their ass onto a therapist’s couch yet and made them dig deeper into their own motivations or forced them to confront how their reckless actions affect others.

But there must be a story — this story finds the real-estate giant facing sudden bankruptcy and a raft of failed political/business dealings after he realizes that much of Atlanta is built on swamp land; only Connie Britton could make such infested acreage sound so interesting in her narration as she reads from Wolfe’s prose about how people deal with “water moccasins” and “cottonmouths.” When an affiliated bank comes calling for its money and demands Charlie repay over $1 billion in debt by sundown, the entire empire’s on the verge of collapse. But why should we care? The curious thing about the show, which has Regina King (One Night in Miami) and Thomas Schlamme (The West Wing, Snowfall) sharing directing duties, is that it never quite lands. It flits about, reveling in Charlie’s alpha-male idiosyncrasies but eschewing depth, character development and making better use of its fine cast — Diane Lane, Lucy Liu, Tom Pelphrey, Aml Ameen, Chanté Adams and William Jackson Harper.

A Man in Full chronicles the last 10 days of our Atlantan good ol’ boy who is anything but good. A gunshot welcomes us into the opening sequence; then we see Charlie seemingly dead on a rug somewhere. How did he get there? Flashing back: We arrive at his birthday bash with Shania Twain as headlining act. Troubles start when Raymond Peepgrass (Pelphrey), an underpaid loan officer for this same bank that wants its money back from Charlie yesterday, teams up with Harry Zale (Bill Camp), head of said bank’s asset-management department to take him down. The bank wants its money back; but Charlie plays to habit. He’s so used to charming his way out of things — or another loan extension in this case. He’s flabbergasted that they won’t change course at the bank. Like any successful businessman of his ilk would want to do: Trump his enemies

If it were not for the fact that Daniels, as he plays Charlie, overdoes it in a way that makes him seem more like an actor than anyone else in the series is acting; and if Pelphrey and Camp didn’t follow suit, turning the whole outing cartoonish; and if the script allowed it — this could have been a fine premise. I do not think people really behave like these fellas are behaving.

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