There is something about military thrillers that, no matter your general interests, has appeal. A mix of action, conspiracy, and, if done right, exploration of the human condition; stories that place man against the machine of an organization much larger than themselves usually seems to satisfy the need for a bit of escapism while also allowing the viewer to indulge in some of their own questions — who hasn't wondered if authority is up to something nefarious from time to time? Prime Video's latest entry in that genre, The Terminal List, an adaptation of the Jack Carr novel of the same name, on the surface seems like something that would not only fit the bill, but be a standout with its story of a Navy SEAL who uncovers a conspiracy that pits his own government against him. Unfortunately, while the opportunity is there, the series doesn't fully deliver and instead fails its mission.
The Terminal List stars Chris Pratt as James Reece, a SEAL commander whose entire platoon dies after being ambushed during a high-stakes and highly covert mission. Reece returns home, but soon finds his recollection of how things went down questioned and even begins to question his own memories. However, it soon comes to light that there's a vast and complex conspiracy working against him that endangers not only his own life, but the lives of those he loves, prompting him to deal with the situation personally. It's a great premise and the series is packed with some great performers. Beyond Pratt, the series also stars Constance Wu, Taylor Kitsch, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Sean Gunn, LaMonica Garrett, and more. But premise plus star power isn't strong enough glue here.
The primary issues with The Terminal List rest on Pratt. Don't get me wrong: it's very obvious that Pratt is trying his best to give Reece the ferocity and reverence the character deserves and there are moments when he pulls off a cool, methodical energy that is downright chilling to watch. The rest of the time, though, he seems to struggle his way through the role. Without getting too deeply into spoilers, part of the issues compounding Reece's story is that he's dealing with genuine issues of memory as well as PTSD from what he experienced during the ambush. That makes sense, but in Pratt's hands, it comes off stilted. In scenes where Reece is supposed to be dissociating or locked in an out-of-sync memory, Pratt seems more like he's been fully lobotomized. His try-hard here is so loud that you can all but hear his inner dialogue telling him to act. Additionally, while a viewer might be able to accept that a Navy SEAL with his experience could have a different way of expressing and processing grief, Pratt's performance of grief is very much that, a performance. It's wooden to the point you wonder if he's sad or has some sort of digestive distress. Some of this is exacerbated by a lack of chemistry between Pratt and Riley Keough, who plays Reece's wife.
Outside of Pratt's performance, there are a few other weaknesses. While the series does make some solid improvements on Carr's novel — specifically, the series tightens up and streamlines some relationships so that they make more logical sense and weeds out some of the book's weirdly gratuitous details about Reece's love of coffee, guns, and Land Cruisers while also somehow humanizing him a bit more — there are some motivation changes regarding the conspiracy that feel almost like they are trying to "Thanos" the story. By that I mean they are trying offer at least some "understandable but horrifically flawed" rationale that's clearly intended to spark large questions about the way the armed forces approaches mental health, but it just falls flat. There is also the underlying message that the organization is corrupt by the cogs in the wheel who are innocent that doesn't quite fly. Structurally, the pacing is a little awkward, at times, and this is a series that does not do foreshadowing well — or more accurately, does a poor job of stringing together the clues.
All of that said, The Terminal List isn't entirely a mess. Tripplehorn is outstanding as Secretary of State Lorraine Hartley, crafting a character that you simultaneously respect yet don't fully trust, while Wu's Katie Buranek is fierce and has just the right amount of suspicion. Garrett's Commander Fox has a somewhat smaller role, but he delivers a steady and very human performance that makes you wonder what his story is. Kitsch switches from being a hoot to being lethally serious and it's a whiplash that works. These performances alone make toughing out the full eight episodes possible.
The Terminal List, despite having all of the elements of a high-octane military thriller, doesn't quite live up to its potential. Between a lackluster performance from Pratt, a bit of a miss in the motivations of the conspiracy, some scenery-chewing villains, and structural issues with the storytelling, the series feels like an over-earnest clone of every other military crime thriller — and for their time, viewers might be better served with a different one. I hear Jack Reacher's pretty good.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5
The Terminal List debuts on Prime Video July 1st.0comments