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May 12, 2024

Jeff Daniels brings bombastic flair to his starring role in Netflix's A Man in Full

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A Man in Full ☆☆☆ 1/2
Starring: Jeff Daniels,
Diane Lane, Lucy Liu

Created by David E. Kelley


hen Jeff Daniels plays middle-aged men facing difficult questions of duty and morality, he is a study in decency. But when Chelsea, Michigan’s favorite resident gets the rare chance to tackle a selfish, bombastic, power-tripping jerk in The Man in Full, he gives a master class in uninhibited acting.

In fact, Daniels’ juicy performance is the highlight of the six-episode Netflix limited series that arrived last Thursday. In this adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s 1998 novel of the same name, he portrays 60-year-old Charlie Croker, a real estate mogul from Atlanta with a disdain for following rules and a habit of collecting trophies, like his young wife, his fancy horse farm and his towering namesake building. An extremely rich blowhard who is used to running roughshod over anyone who gets in his way, Charlie is about to receive big-time payback for his toxic masculinity. As he bemoans at one point, “World’s gonna make men like me extinct.”

Well, thank goodness for that.

Draw your own conclusions about whether Charlie is reminiscent of any other domineering male narcissist in the news these days, but rest assured that Daniels is having a blast here. With his thick Southern accent and chin jutted out to a menacing underbite, Charlie seems like an angry bulldog ready to take a bite out of the world. He’ll grab a poisonous snake by the neck to impress a potential investor.

But as Daniels shows with appropriate scenery chewing, Charlie is just a familiar type of charming bully who has to be in control. He can’t accept that his bank is insisting that he make good on the 800 million dollars he owes, a move that threatens to take away all his toys. It’s Charlie who feels persecuted, never mind all those ordinary people around him who have to cater to his whims and survive a system that treats the wealthy like minor gods.

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If the rest of A Man in Full were as irresistible as Daniels’ acting, it might qualify as the heir to HBO’s Succession. But bringing a Wolfe novel to the screen is never easy. See 1990’s Bonfire of the Vanities with Tom Hanks and Bruce Willis, a movie that’s not as bad as critics said at the time, but is noticeably flawed.

Along with David E. Kelley, the mini-series boasts the behind-the-scenes leadership of Oscar-winning actress Regina King and TV veteran Thomas Schlamme, who both are directors and executive producers here. The cast is stellar, from Diane Lane as Charlie’s disenchanted ex-wife to Detroit’s own Chante Adams as Charlie’s assistant, who is devastated by an instance of police brutality that plunges her caring husband, Conrad (Jon Michael Hill), into the stacked deck of the judicial system.

As Charlie seethes with rage (and, soon, with pain from an ill-advised high-tech knee replace-ment), he is dogged by two dedicated opponents, loan officer Raymond Peepgrass (Tom Pelphrey), a struggling mid-level employee who lives in a crummy apartment, drives a crappy car and envies Charlies’s money and status beyond reason, and Harry Zale (Bill Camp), a terrifyingly fierce loan collector who delights in treating Charlie with rudeness and disdain.

Their efforts to bring down Charlie keep escalating, but the real emotion lies in the plot thread involving Conrad, who winds up in a dangerous prison after a judge has no empathy for his unfair parking violation, and Charlie’s corporate legal fixer, Roger White (Aml Ameen), who appreciates the security that his attorney salary affords his family, but also realizes the personal cost of shielding Charlie from consequences of his behavior for a living.

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When Roger takes on Conrad’s case, he doesn’t realize that it will force him to assess his own choices. Suddenly, Roger is forced to realize that Conrad, a young Black man with no criminal past, won’t be getting a slap on the wrist that a white tycoon like Charlie would — an imbalance that Roger is normally paid to maintain. “This is not right,” says Conrad of his plight, a statement that is at the heart of A Man in Full. Viewers may wish that more time had been spent with Roger and Conrad, but their narrative is just one piece of a convoluted puzzle.

A Man in Full has more threads to its wide-ranging tapestry, including a successful entrepreneur (Lucy Liu) who may hold the key to Charlie’s financial rescue.

The series bites off more than it can chew, but, wow, it is fun to watch Daniels growl as that bulldog of a billionaire.

Courtesy: Detroit Free Press

Rating system: *Not on your life * ½ If you really must waste your time ** Hardly worth the bother ** ½ Okay for a slow afternoon only *** Good enough for a look see *** ½ Recommended viewing **** Don’t miss it **** ½ Almost perfect ***** Perfection

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