Thursday, October 14, 2010


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Date : October 14,2010
By Leo McKinstry

MOVE over Morse. Columbo, hang up that raincoat. Shut it, Sherlock. There’s a new TV detective on the prowl. LEO McKINSTRY is bowled over by The Mentalist, which returns to Channel Five tomorrow.

TV DETECTIVE fiction loves a maverick. Think of sullen, lonely Inspector Morse with his idiosyncratic passions for real ale and Wagnerian opera.

Or the dishevelled Columbo with his crumpled raincoat and deceptive air of absentmindedness. Or Gene Hunt, whose Audi Quattro and sharp tongue were so symbolic of his robust, macho search for justice.

But there has never been a maverick in the crime genre quite like Patrick Jane, the hero of the US TV series The Mentalist, which returns for its third season on Channel Five tomorrow.

A genius at solving murder cases through his brilliant understanding of the human psyche Patrick works as a consultant to the California Bureau of Investigation, the equivalent of our CID. Set against the backdrop of the sun-drenched western state every episode shows Patrick using his blend of logic and instinct to crack a new mystery, while his bosses constantly grumble about his unorthodox methods.

Until the arrival of The Mentalist I had always thought that Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock Holmes was in a league of his own as the ultimate TV crime-solver. Brett gave the definitive portrayal of the great detective in the Granada series that ran for a decade from 1984. His was an utterly compelling performance, revealing Holmes’s grandeur and torment, wisdom and impulsiveness.

From his theatrical hand gestures to his sudden gusts of sarcastic laughter, from his rich baritone voice to his raven-black hair Brett’s Holmes always dominated the screen. Yet Patrick Jane, played by Australian actor Simon Baker, has emerged as a rival to Holmes’s crown. The Mentalist is completely different to anyone who has gone before. He is not a maverick in the usual sense of having a sackload of personal quirks.

Indeed, with his easy smile and wry detachment, he often appears to be a remarkably well-balanced individual. He never has to battle with his weight like burly US cop Frank Cannon, or wrestle with an opium habit like Holmes, or contemplate poetic verse like Adam Dalgliesh, the ascetic loner portrayed by Roy Marsden in the TV adaptations of PD James’s best-selling novels.

PATRICK’S only sartorial eccentricity is a fondness for ill-fitting waistcoats. Nor is he heroic in the physical sense.

Rare in the field of US crime-fighting he never carries a gun and will often hold himself back from dangerous confrontations with criminals while the rest of his unit from the bureau pile in. Yet what makes Patrick Jane unique is his brilliant grasp of the psychological dynamic of any crime. He is a master at reading body language, constantly picking up clues from the way people interact or talk.

He seems able to look into another person’s soul in a matter of seconds. In one episode, for instance, he immediately surmised that a wealthy business figure had drugs in his top left pocket from the way that the man would occasionally, almost subconsciously, tap his jacket. As usual Patrick turned out to be right. Unlike most modern detectives, exemplified by the crew of CSI, Patrick has no interest in forensics.

He leaves that to others. When he arrives at a crime scene he focuses on the people, usually the family of the victim, rather than the layout. Sometimes this makes him appear incredibly rude and insensitive, as when he tells an apparently grief-stricken widow he knows she was having an affair with her late husband’s best friend, a conclusion reached from the briefest observation of her conduct.

So striking are Patrick’s powers of perception he could be taken for a mind-reader. In fact, as viewers learn through a number of flashbacks during the series, Patrick used to work as a psychic medium before he engaged in police work.

From his earliest youth he had a special gift for psychological insight, a skill that his ruthless father exploited by making Patrick give mind-reading performances at travelling fairs where he was known as the Boy Wonder. In adulthood Patrick became a successful television psychic but his act was all a fraud.

He never believed in the super natural, only in rational observation. The Mentalist has a host of other qualities that enhance his appeal, such as his rich sense of humour, refl ected in the wide smile. Again this contrasts with the innate grumpiness that seems to characterise so many detectives. He has no time for sentimentality or political correctness, two prominent traits of our modern culture.

In one storyline he correctly exposes a murderer who has tried to cover his crime by pretending to be mentally retarded. While others wallowed in sympathy Patrick soon saw through the cleverly constructed facade of disability. Patrick’s attractive credibility is a tribute to Simon Baker, who captures a sophisticated Californian accent perfectly despite his Australian origins.

Baker, the son of a mechanic from Tasmania, appeared in those much-loved Aussie soaps Home And Away and Heartbreak High. After this success he relo cated to Hollywood, where he appeared in several big movies, mostly notably The Devil Wears Prada. The Mentalist also owes a lot to its writer Bruno Heller. Londonborn and a graduate of Sussex University Heller is the brother of novelist Zoe Heller.

ANOTHER crucial ingredient that Heller provides is a tremendous sense of narrative power. Each episode is a self-contained tale in its own right but throughout Patrick is locked in a bitter struggle with his archenemy, a serial killer of demonic intelligence known as Red John. The symbol that Red John leaves at murder scenes, a primitive face painted on a wall with the victim’s blood, comes to haunt the entire series.

For Patrick the fight against Red John is deeply personal. In his past as a psychic star Patrick went on television to disparage Red John, who had already achieved public notoriety with his monstrous deeds. Enraged by Patrick’s mockery on the airwaves Red John exacted a terrible revenge, butchering Patrick’s wife and children. Utterly shattered by this horror Patrick has a breakdown and then decides to give up his TV career by dedicating himself to police work.

But the search for Red John is always at the forefront of his thoughts. He is like an avenging angel bent on seeking justice. This gives Patrick a terrifying vulnerability as he is drawn ever more deeply into his own lethal war. For all his superficial charm nothing else really matters to him but the destruction of his foe.

Yet the search for vengeance also brings strength to Patrick. There is a deep moral purity about his goal, so unlike the equivocations we constantly see in our own misnamed justice system with all its excuse-making and soft sentences. Indeed Patrick warns that when he finally catches up with Red John he will “cut out” the murderer’s heart.

As series three starts there is a dark sense of foreboding, eerily similar to Sherlock Holmes’s fateful battle against Professor Moriarty, which ended with both of them plunging to their doom at Reichenbach Falls. Whatever the final outcome for the Mentalist it will make gripping television.

1 意見:

Izabella said...


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