SHOWRUNNERS: Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy
STARRING: Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, James Marsden, Ben Barnes, Jimmi Simpson, Ed Harris and Anthony Hopkins
How do you talk about a show like Westworld? Well, you just talk about a show like Westworld. Firstly, let me confess that I haven’t yet watched Michael Crichton’s 1973 original film of the same name, but after having been completely blown away by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy’s TV series, I’ll certainly be giving it a watch in the coming days. Anything that spawned such an incredibly unique series as Westworld must be worth my time.
Westworld, I’m talking about the TV series now, is set in the future in a Western-themed theme park, called Westworld as the title of the show and the movie suggests, where people can come for a few days and completely immerse themselves in the gun-slinging fun of the wild wild west. The world is populated by androids, who are referred to as the hosts in the show, but things start to take a bit of a turn when these robots start to become properly aware of their surroundings.
The longer I work here, the more I think I understand the hosts. It’s the human beings that confuse me.
Westworld is chocked full of twists and turns. The show is a big web of mysteries that very slowly unravel themselves towards the end of Season 1. I guarantee that you’ll be hooked on the many different plot lines until the very end. I’m not going to give any spoilers away in this review, because that wouldn’t be fair, and they’d be no real point to it. What Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy have done is take the central premise from a not too widely known film from the 70s, and turn it into something completely groundbreaking.
There are some comparisons to be made with science fiction films that have come before it: Blade Runner, Ex Machina and even Christopher Nolan’s Memento to a certain extent (I won’t explain why). There’s also a bit of Groundhog Day thrown in there. Westworld has a complex story arch which lasts over ten episodes and will keep you guessing until the very last second. In my mind, there hasn’t been a TV series quite like it. You can tell that they’ve spent many years and a lot of money making sure that Westworld’s first season is as perfect as it can possibly be. However, I have no idea where they’ll take the show in its second season, but I can’t wait to see where they decide to go. Perhaps an expansion into the other parks that were teased in the first season?
You can’t play God without being acquainted with the devil.
One of Westworld’s real strong points is its cast. Evan Rachel Wood, who you may have seen in films like Thirteen, The Wrestler and The Ides of March, plays a host called Dolores, who’s the oldest host in the park, yet also arguably the most important. Wood is remarkable as Delores. Considering she’s a robot, she’s easily the most human character in the whole show, and her performance is simply put, mesmerising. She’s backed up brilliantly by James Marsden, who’s got a knack for playing characters who are often unfairly treated. Thandie Newton, Jeffery Wright, Ben Barnes and Jimmi Simpson, to name a few, are all also perfectly cast and deliver fine performances.
However, apart from Wood, the two other standout performances in Westworld come from Ed Harris and Sir Anthony Hopkins. Ed Harris plays someone referred to as the Man in Black, who’s a rich, twisted and sadistic guest in Westworld, and he’s at first is set up almost as the show’s pantomime villain. Yet once you start to get to know the character, you realise that there’s a lot more going on underneath the surface.
How am I doing Robert? Any closer to what I’m looking for?
That said, it’s Anthony Hopkins who steals the show as Robert Ford, the park’s co-founder and creative director. He’s very much the architect of everything that’s going on and you can never quite grasp who’s side he’s on. Is he a hero or a villain? He’s neither black nor white, but somewhere in between. This is easily Hopkins’ best performance in years. There are certainly echoes of Hannibal Lecter in there, but his performance is much more nuanced than that. He also delivers some of the best speeches ever seen on any screen, let alone the small screen.
Westworld is proof yet again that TV is where it’s at. Not only are we seeing the big stars make a move over to the small screen, but visionaries such as Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy are being allowed to let their creative juices flow with the format. Perhaps the long form nature of television allows more room to create a free flowing narrative, and now that companies such as HBO and Netflix are prepared to spend more money on these shows, these series are just getting better and better. Westworld, Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, Preacher, Black Mirror…
2016 may have not been the best year for blockbusters on the big screen, but we have been seeing them on the small screen, and Westworld is easily one of the best blockbuster shows made in the last few years. Some critics have said that it’s a bit slow, I think it’s just very well paced, and I would go as far as saying that it’s the pinnacle of narrative television.