Is McMafia the next Night Manager? No, but it is an interesting, sexy, if at times slow, take on the international crime thriller.
Hossein Amini and James Watkins adapts Misha Glenny's true story of Russian exile turned businessman Alex Godman (James Norton). When the Godman family is targeted by the most powerful mob in Russia, Alex must abandon his life as an honest financier and return to the family business in order to protect those around him.
Without a doubt, McMafia is a sexy, smart, and, dare I say, realistic look at the above ground operations of underground crime. But what makes McMafia standout from the slew of other crime series flooding the airways, other than the eye-catching title? Not much. It features a morally responsible protagonist, who struggles to accept his role in the mob - which is quite a refreshing change from the power-hungry, narcissistic gangster. The program is slow and quiet but isn't afraid to slap you in the face when it needs to. No doubt it's a smart drama that lives up to its marketing of 'international thriller,' but its first few episodes fail to be truly gripping because of its slow pace.
McMafia's relevance and most interesting angle come from the prominence of its Russian themes. Russian corruption and conspiracies is always an intriguing subject (especially in our current political climate - a powerful businessman doing 'business' with the Kremlin's men. Sound familiar?) and paired with the mystery and thrill of it being true to make the story even more captivating. McMafia plays well because it draws not only on its own true story, but it also reflects on how politics and business in our modern age are so easily corrupted.
James Norton is a charming fit for the good-willed gangster. You can't help but fall for his kind eyes, making his business dealings seem less illegal and more of an appropriate business transaction - which, perhaps, is the most important message of Amini and Watkins's adaptation: the most transparent and honest businessmen are the most corrupt. David Dencik, in his short turn as Alex's eccentric uncle, creates effortlessly a charming and enchanting mobster. Despite his unsavory and ill-advised actions, you can't help but to wish he didn't have to get the ax so soon. The rest of the cast falls into place and embraces their role as Russian mobsters, with David Strathairn, following in Norton's kind footsteps, crafting a villain that passes as righteous with his overwhelming sincerity.
McMafia continues on BBC One Sunday at 9pm