What to watch this weekend: Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan and The Tale

Adam Mathew 14 September 2018 NEWS

Prime Video's explosive original is available to stream now, and HBO tells a tall Tale with Laura Dern.

There's so much to stream this month, it's honestly overwhelming. Lucky for you, we've got the top picks that can't be missed this weekend.

Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan

What's the gist?

Weirdly, I've got a friend of mine – a known myopic stickler – who refuses to give this Tom Clancy reboot a chance. His issue: apparently there's no way his brain will be able to see and accept Jim from The Office (John Krasinski) as Jack Ryan, super spook. I rolled my eyes at this initially but the more I asked around, the more I heard the same from other people – Clancy fans and franchise newbies alike.

So let's get this out of the way early. Krasinski delivers the goods here and it's not like “his” Ryan hits the ground power-sliding with akimbo pistols blazing, like Jack Bauer on too much red cordial. Ryan's no field agent. He's a desk jockey CIA analyst who just happens to notice a financial discrepancy in the Middle East. He more or less gets dragged into the crosshairs of ISIL 2.0.

Mind you, I'll admit that the many office scenes in the first half of this 8-part series did make my thoughts wander. I kept looking for the new will-they-won't-they Pam love interest (that role is taken and ably played outside of the CIA by Australian actress Abbie Cornish). During the intense moments when Ryan is summoned into the office by his aggressive handler (Wendell Pierce), I half expected a drawer to get opened to reveal a stapler encased in jelly.

Trust me, this never happens (and on some level, I was disappointed by it). This weird sensation passes in all of one episode.

What's it like in the long run?

Absolutely gripping. And this is coming from somebody who has been down the TV series spy thriller rabbit hole before, many times over – most notably with 24 and Homeland and more recently with The Americans. Krasinski brings gravitas to the role and is just an effortlessly likeable everyman. That said, the hook digs in early when it becomes apparent that he's a reluctant hero with mysterious baggage. Or, as one character perceptively puts it, he's a “wolf playing at being a sheep”.

I'm also happy to say that Ryan's CIA superior, disgraced Deputy Director James Greer, has had some new dimensions added in as well. He's almost been put to pasture after an incident which bordered on war crimes (if you listen to the rumour mill). This reboot casts him as a practising Muslim, too, which is a fascinating dynamic to have in an investigation such as this. That said, full props to the writers for taking the time to flesh out and humanise the other side of this conflict. It's a welcome change from the usual brooding, one-dimensional zealots that are often par for the course.

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The Tale

What's the gist?

If you loved seeing the triumphant return of actress Laura Dern in The Last Jedi (and for the record, I think it could've gone much better), The Tale might be for you. Prepare yourself for dark territory, though. This semi-autobiographical drama thriller written and directed by Jennifer Fox centres on a woman filming a documentary on child rape victims. While digging into their stories she starts to question the nature of her own childhood relationship with her riding instructor and running coach.

In her younger years, Jennifer (Dern) had an obsession with changing and reinventing herself, to the point where her grown self can only grasp at fragments of a childhood misremembered. Thus begins a sombre meditation on the elusive nature of memory and the little tricks our subconscious can play on us, especially if trauma is involved.

The catalyst to it all is Jennifer rediscovering a short story from her middle school days. It triggers the need to re-examine her first sexual relationship and a possible mental cover-up that's taken place. This prompts a quick trip home and sees Jennifer getting back in the saddle (literally and figuratively) with her old life and a small town brimming with secrets.

What's it like in the long run?

It will no doubt be a tough watch for folks who have come into contact with this sort of abuse, but Fox has handled it all with authenticity and care. This is an important, deeply thought-provoking watch that is nigh impossible to stop once you've tumbled down the rabbit hole.

Dern, along with a range of talented young actresses who play her younger counterparts/inner child, all deliver incredible performances. You're constantly kept guessing as to whether the culprits exist in front of you, or if you're dealing with the manifestation of a narrator made unreliable via some other means. Either way, Jennifer's internal struggles with her past selves are stylishly shot and realised. Make time for it.

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