‘We Own This City’ on HBO is an ambitious, uneven companion to ‘The Wire’

The first two episodes of HBO’s new police drama “We Own This City” feature a dead man riddled with bullets. In an alley and a drug lord whose wares seem to be leaving a trail of bodies, but the real mystery is something else entirely. the miniseries takes its title from a statement delivered not by criminals but by a Baltimore cop, Wayne Jenkins (Jon Bernthal), who rises through the ranks while planting drugs, committing assaults, robbing lawbreakers and ordinary citizens alike, and shows his fellow officers how to get away with anything. The big question is not what he did, but why his superiors considered him their “golden boy” and turned a blind eye to his misdeeds for almost a decade and a half.

Adapted by David Simon and George Pelecanos from the nonfiction book by former Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton. We own this city” is a spiritual sequel to “The Wire,” exposing and deploring the institutional rot that makes reform nearly impossible. Freddie Gray’s name is invoked early and often, though less as a victim of police brutality than as a temporary marker after which law enforcement became even more entrenched against reform as residents grew increasingly suspicious of them. In the opening scene.

Jenkins stands at a lectern, dissuading other officers from using excessive force, and in the next scene, he threatens to hit someone with a baseball bat. According to the show, the only real gain for the political energy around the police in recent years might be their newfound ability to repeat the talking points the public wants to hear.

Showrunner Pelecanos shows no shortage of ambition. “We Own This City” is a portrait of how police corruption destroys a city: emptying its coffers to pay settlements, disillusioning citizens with their leaders and institutions, and encouraging officers to act without regard to law or morality.

Baltimore is his case study, but as one of the show’s preachy monologues makes clear, a Jenkins could happen anywhere. That impression is reinforced by the series’ similarities to “The Shield,” the FX crime thriller that was inspired by the Rampart scandal in late ’90s Los Angeles.

By 2017, Jenkins is the leader of the Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF), a rogue unit within the Baltimore police department that ostensibly focuses on drug crimes. The elite squad is made up of some of the worst criminals in the city. Several of his officers have already been disciplined by internal affairs for misconduct, such as opportunist Jemell Ryan (a scene-stealing Darrell Britt-Gibson).

Others are on a list of cops who are no longer allowed to testify in court due to their history of perjury, like bellicose, born-to-intimidate Daniel Hersl (Josh Charles playing the guy). Others openly aspire to live like their criminal associates, like the braggart Momodu “G Money” Gondo (McKinley Belcher III).

GTTF’s job was to get guns off the streets of Baltimore. These cops admitted to stealing drugs and cash instead.

Like other programs by Simon and Pelecanos, “We Own This City” is not a particularly attractive world to enter. There are dozens of characters (some played by familiar faces from “The Wire”), and the scripts are full of statistics and unexplained jargon and acronyms. The first few chapters are especially, and to be frank, unnecessarily opaque, jumping between timelines with little payoff. The rest of the deliveries are structured around Interviews, either by the pair of investigators working to take down the GTTF or by the federal civil rights attorney (Wunmi Mosaku) hoping to make the case for further reform of the BPD through a consent decree.

“We Own This City” is closer to a Simon-Pelecanos also directed than another masterpiece to “The Wire”. (The look of this series, from “King Richard” director Reinaldo Marcus Green, is very reminiscent of its predecessor drab realism.) Indeed, six hours may not be a large enough canvas for everything the writers want to accomplish, especially their efforts to shoehorn in observations about how policing has changed after Gray’s death in 2015. Interviewers get dirty cops’ confessions a little too easily, though, satisfactorily, there’s no honour among thieves, Jenkins’ reckless squandering of robberies causes unexpected self-disgust among his troops. The series may be most effective when investigators speak to victims of the GTTF chaos, as the human toll of police brutality on ordinary people mounts.

HBO’s ‘We Own This Town’: An Interview with David Simon and George Pelecanos.

“The Wire” is mostly praised today for its overview of law enforcement and civic necrosis that makes effective policing a Sisyphean task, but as fans know, it also featured superbly crafted characters and countless actors with amazing charisma. The performances here are okay, but not especially noteworthy, given how little screen time is allotted to any one member of the huge ensemble.

(In addition to Britt-Gibson, the standout is Jamie Hector, best known as the villainous Marlo on “The Wire,” who plays a homicide detective worried that his years working alongside Jenkins will taint his career.) Perhaps Simon and Pelecanos wanted to avoid the trap he caught “The Shield” – Viewers identified with the repulsive leading man, with many rooting for Michael Chiklis’s Vic Mackey for continuing to outsmart everyone around him despite his bottomless depravity.

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