Town of Banshee fit for a Kiwi star

Kiwi actor Antony Starr is outstanding in American drama Banshee.
Kiwi actor Antony Starr is outstanding in American drama Banshee.

Where is Munter when you need him? Last night's debut of Banshee (SoHo, 8.30pm) introduced New Zealand actor Antony Starr to a town that needed a whole lot of work - and his character has yet to acquire a sidekick.

But this is too tough an assignment, even for a seasoned Westie. There's a bleakly squint-eyed classic Western sensibility to this cracking new drama. Banshee is superficially a peaceable Pennsylvania Amish town, but just under the surface it's a brutal totalitarian gang regime. It needs a saviour. 

Our hero hardly seems to fit the bill. A booty-bilked ex-con fresh out of jail, he runs foul of the baddies within minutes of stopping by for a beer.  They shoot up the local bar and kill the brand new sheriff, Lucas Hood.  Our hero decides on the spur of the moment that he'll take over - as Lucas Hood, badge and all.  It's a daring and utterly ridiculous move, but in the context - a roiling mass of lower-case hoods with upper-case Agendas - it's absolutely ingenious.

The new Lucas has just served 15 years for a diamond heist and had expected to meet his old girlfriend and partner in crime to collect the haul upon his release.  But not only did they double-cross homicidally vengeful gangsters to do the heist, but she has lost the diamonds.  He has tracked her down to Banshee, where she is respectably married under a new identity.  But the old gang is on his trail.

Taking on the various murderous scumbags in Banshee seems like the safe haven option compared with what his old bosses intend for him.

And so far, so good. We don't yet know what Lucas' larger backstory is, but he'd ace the SAS induction.  A ninja-fast combatant, he plunges headlong into the town's many vicious stoushes, psyches out the baddies, and has the alpha villain, a lapsed Amish industrialist, wondering which way is up.  

Banshee is dark, pacey and richly satisfying in that classic Jack Reacher/Clint Eastwood sort of way: a dark stranger blows into town and exacts rough justice. Starr is outstanding, the power-stubble and power-squint obliterating all memory of his adorably goofy Van and Munter days.

This is not viewing for kiddies.  Sex and violence are deployed with equal ferocity.  But, as you'd expect from the makers of the gripping and ingenious True Blood, the story bounds along, taking unexpected detours down strange alleys and throwing up enough seething conundrums for its richly drawn characters to hold the attention.

The Dominion Post