The North Water Premiere Review – “Behold The Man” – IGN
The North Water premieres Thursday, July 15, on AMC+.
The North Water, featuring Colin Farrell as a jagged, shaggy bogeyman harpooner ready to wreak havoc and Godless’ Jack O’Connell as a disgraced military surgeon looking to skulk away from his past, sets up a claustrophobic story where it always feels like danger is constantly closing in, if not forever circling.
Based on Ian McGuire’s 2016 novel about haunted men doing terrible things at sea during a British whaling expedition in 1859, The North Water sees O’Connell’s Dr. Sumner and Farrell’s Mr. Drax in an intriguing Jekyll & Hyde dynamic. Even as you’re introduced to these two characters in the premiere of this five-part limited series, “Behold the Man,” they’re shown visiting the same locations, at different points of the day, just missing each other. It not only teases an inevitable collision, but also allows us to draw contrasts and comparisons, recognizing that they’re only shades apart. As the proper and well-meaning Sumner, whose regrets are recent and tragic, escapes into a haze of drugs, Drax slinks about the town whoring and drinking and causing all sorts of vile moral calamity, like he’s Sumner’s shadow self sprung to life.
The North Water’s full scope is still mostly hidden from us after the first episode, but it still manages to bottle up a bunch of combustable elements aboard The Volunteer, a whaling vessel headed for frozen waters helmed by a captain (Boardwalk Empire’s Stephen Graham) who himself comes with an ample amount of emotional turmoil and baggage. Basically, most everyone’s hopping onto this ship with information they don’t want exposed and the harsh climate and rigors of the job will most assuredly bring everything to light in a savage way. It’s similar to the first season of The Terror, without the added obstacle of actual ice demons mutilating people.
Farrell nicely sinks his fangs into Drax, and though he chameleons himself into the part visually, his performance stops short of being cartoonish. Henry Drax is a wretched, murderous soul capable of any form of depravity. Had he not managed to find one particular job he’s good at, which is none other than sanctioned slaughter, Drax would surely just drink and violate until eventually put down by someone rougher and tougher. Once Drax catches wind of some of Sumner’s secrets, he conspires with First Mate Cavendish (Sam Spruell) to do terrible and treacherous things.
“Behold the Man” lays many of the pieces in place, but still holds enough back to keep things enticing. It feels authentic and gritty without being blurry and confusing. The main characters are easily distinguishable and the story is a very human one without losing any pulpy intensity. All in all, it’s a good kick off for this small and sinister (whale of a) tale, with a presumed redemptive hero’s journey on the horizon for Dr. Sumner.