Heat used one to spark a confrontation between two titans of the big screen. The result was a gripping piece of cinema. If it worked for Michael Mann, it can work for Sky. The Last Panthers, the broadcaster’s new series, kicks off with a robbery – and how.
But that’s not even the most striking part of the show’s introduction. That privilege goes to the opening credits, which are accompanied by Blackstar, a brand new song written especially for the show by David Bowie. The Thin White Duke and a heist? The Last Panthers opens as big as they come.
It’s a promising sign of what’s to come. Shot over eight months and unfolding in several langugages, the six-part thriller is thinking on a far larger playing field than Mann’s 1995 film. Here, our heist is the catalyst to bring together a group of characters from across the continent.
There’s Milan (Goran Bogdan), the Serbian leader of our thieves, trying to hold thing together after their stunt goes (inevitably) wrong. There’s Khalil (Tahar Rahim), a cop in Marseilles trying to piece the globe-trotting web together. And there’s Naomi (Samantha Morton), a loss adjustor for the insurance firm trying to retrieve their goods.
The script – written by This Is England veteran Jack Thorne – splits our attention three ways, an indicator of just how confident it is in being able to win over our sympathies. And, thanks to its cast, it succeeds, finding shades of grey between the black-and-white cops-and-robbers labels of diamond thrillers gone by. This is modern Europe, where boundaries are blurred, where money is paramount and where everyone is cool, regardless of their accent.
The premise is based on an idea from French journo Jerome Pierrat, who’s had real life experience of The Pink Panthers, the group of international burglars who became heroes of sorts in their infamous escapades, which nabbed them over $200 million worth of stones.
“They have class,” says John Hurt, who plays Tom, the weary-yet-excited boss of Naomi. His presence is another indicator of the programme’s quality: not only does he add weight to Morton’s side of events, which is coloured by her past as a UN peacekeeper – something that could well connect her to other strands of the story. Rahim, meanwhile, brings the presence familiar to those who have seen A Prophet or The Informant and uses it to make a compelling study of someone searching for redemption. And at the same time, there’s Bogdan as the likeably ambitious criminal, struggling to shift this diamonds after a girl is shot in their caper – and the last of the titular panthers.
Behind the camera, director Johan Renck, who has been responsible for some of the bloodiest episodes of Vikings and The Walking Dead, brings a suitably slick sheen to proceedings, at home drifting between London, Marseille and Montenegro. As the ice heats up, he introduces an air of Scandinavian chill – a clinical approach that feels not unlike Sky’s other big original show this year, Fortitude.
Like that Arctic mystery, The Last Panthers debuts simultaneously in the UK, Italy, Germany and Austria, a reflection of its Euro-hopping narrative and international scale. But if that makes Heat seem tiny, it’s telling that The Last Panthers’ first set piece is much, much smaller: the whole affair is over in the blink of an eye, a sign of just how precise our robbers and story-tellers are. The Last Panthers arrives at a time when there are countless TV shows clamouring for your time. This opening episode hijacks your attention for 60 minutes without you even noticing – a heist that is grippingly cinematic.
The Last Panthers is on Thursdays at 9pm on Sky Atlantic and available to catch up with after on-demand. Don’t have Sky? You can watch live online and catch up post-broadcast through NOW TV. The VOD service gives you contract-free streaming access to Sky TV channels, including Sky 1 (Arrow, Supergirl), Sky Atlantic (The Affair) and FOX (The Walking Dead Season 6) for £6.99 a month.
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