Netflix’s ‘Collateral’ Pushes the Genre to Engage With the Heart

This Carey Mulligan thriller is a must-watch.

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A poster of Collateral.

Living in a time when a fringe outfit can disrupt governance while threatening to behead an actor, and everything from one’s dietary habits to volume of laughter is called to question and monitored by the state, a production like Collateral makes you introspect on multiple counts. First, on how people in mainstream entertainment are using their work to hit back at their governments. And second, how a crime thriller can rise above its genre to address global issues and make you think. Actually think.

Streaming on Netflix, Collateral is a 4-episode Netflix-BBC co-production starring Carey Mulligan, Jeany Spark and John Simm among others. It has been written by BAFTA-winning playwright-screenwriter David Hare and directed by SJ Clarkson.


Looking at the World

The premise of the series is simple enough. Abdullah Asif, a pizza delivery boy, is shot down, army style, in London, leaving the police to fumble over the whys and whos. The murder brings together a bouquet of characters - detective inspector Kip Glaspie (Mulligan) and her colleagues, MP David Mars (Simm) and his addict ex-wife Karen (Billie Piper), Sandrine Shaw (Spark), a captain in the British army, Jane Oliver (Nicola Walker), a lesbian priest, and several more. They are all somehow connected and it’s only as the episodes unfold that you realise how.

There is suspense in Collateral, yes, but it’s not so much a whodunnit as a crack through which to look at a multi-ethnic London grappling with a “system” to which individuals are but collateral damage.

“Institution” and “system” are words that pop up quite often in conversations. There’s talk of trying to “outwit” it or “wriggle” space for negotiation. Few rebel, most go with the flow, while others simply succumb.

Carey Mulligan and Nathaniel Martello-White in a still from <i>Collateral.</i>
Carey Mulligan and Nathaniel Martello-White in a still from Collateral.
(Photo courtesy: Netflix)

Hare, in the fast-paced tightly-knit screenplay, turns the spotlight on the several systems - the politics-business-crime-religion syndicates - that control a country and its people for tailor-made profits. The chief spotlight is on the refugee crisis, a global phenomenon today with millions forced to abandon their homes in search of “safe” lands.

Life depends on your citizenship “papers” and whether you can get it or not depends on which country you are coming from, among other factors.

In one scene, Mars, the idealistic MP who swings between the party dictum and his own heart, questions why Britain is behaving like a “nasty little country”, offering asylum to a Syrian but not an Iraqi, or focusing on the religion of the deceased. It makes you go, “Whoa... can this scene be made in India today?!”

<i>Collateral</i> wields the spotlight on a multi-ethnic London grappling with the refugee crisis.&nbsp;
Collateral wields the spotlight on a multi-ethnic London grappling with the refugee crisis. 
(Photo courtesy: Netflix)

But it’s not only government policies that Collateral takes on - there’s casual racism (everyone’s incredulity at the idea of an Englishman heading the people-smuggling business is hilarious); the duplicity of the church; the horrific sexism in the army.

But above all, it takes a long hard look at a deeply isolating and unravelling way of life, where most are left to cope alone as the juggernaut that’s the “system” trundles on.

Looking Within

Jeany Spark in a still form the series.&nbsp;
Jeany Spark in a still form the series. 
(Photo courtesy: Netflix)

We get insights into the minds, past and present of the principal characters in deftly etched out scenes. Almost all of them are grey, everyone trying to do their best but almost always falling short. Mulligan’s Glaspie is the most positive with her empathy - she seems to listen with her face - while Spark’s Iraq-returned Captain Sandrine Shaw is explosive in her robotic demeanour. Even the “villain” of the piece is a regular guy one would meet on the street or chat over coffee.

What makes Collateral really powerful is its minimalism and eschewal of dramatics. The moments of pure grief in this series scream the most in their near-silence. Betrayals are matter of fact, to be dealt with behind closed doors and fade-outs. But the message is clear. No matter what the system throws at you, it’s the people who matter. 
A still from the series.&nbsp;
A still from the series. 
(Photo courtesy: Netflix)

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