The Bluff City’s biggest onscreen presence since Walk The Line premieres tonight on Cinemax. Quarry, a new television series, was shot in Memphis, North Mississippi, and New Orleans last year.
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Logan Marshall-Green as "Mac" Conway in Quarry
There’s a lot of shooting—of the gun type, not the film type—going on in the neo-noir story of Lloyd “Mac” Conway (Logan Marshall-Green). The year is 1972, and we meet Mac when he lands in Memphis after returning to the States from his second tour in Vietnam. He is greeted, not with tears and flowers, but protestors. Mac’s unit was implicated in a Mai Lai-type massacre, but faced no official consequences. But once home, he faces lots of unofficial consequences. Before shipping off to war, he was a high school swim coach. But once he’s back, he finds that the implications attached to his name have made him unemployable. No one wants to put a homocidal maniac in charge of kids.
But is Mac a homocidal maniac? He doesn’t feel like one. He denies wrongdoing, and says he was just following orders. But he’s clearly haunted by the things he’s seen, and no one except his wife Joni (Jodi Balfour) believes his protestations of innocence.
His precarious situation is exploited by a man called The Broker (Peter Mullan), a mysterious figure who appears from nowhere to offer $30,000 cash—five years work as a high school teacher—in exchange for help with rubbing out some undesirables. The Broker claims to be a middleman, but who he actually working for is a mystery. Mac is reluctant to go from soldier to outlaw, but events (orchestrated by The Broker and his crooked PI sidekick Buddy conspire to put him in a corner.
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Jodi Balfour as Joni Conway and Marshall-Green are the heart and soul of Quarry
Quarry, named for the moniker The Broker bestows on Mac, is a clear product of post-Breaking Bad prestige television. Like that spinal series, its biggest strength is the performance of its protagonists, Logan Marshall-Green and Jodi Balfour. Marshall-Green is hard drinking, sweaty, and torn between a desire for normality and the search for complete numbness. Balfour is not just a beauty, but a feminist figure in her own right.
Memphis’ great strength as a filming location is in our stock of vintage buildings—our lack of center-city development from the late 60s to the 2010s finally pays off! Quarry makes great use of the practical locations, and its steeped in period details: Mac’s only positive discovery when he gets home is the music of Big Star, Joni works as a reporter at the Press-Scimitar, and The Broker arranges meetings at the Mid-South Coliseum wrestling matches. The early 70s were an angsty time in America, and especially in Memphis, and the atmosphere of foreboding permeates the series, encapsulated by the McGovern For President sign in Joni’s yard. It’s enough to forgive the actors for mispronouncing “Binghampton”.
Director Greg Yaitanes, a veteran of shows like Lost and House M.D., spends a lot of time on the windup, luxuriating in details and lurid underwater shots. Violence is sudden and nasty: Mac is street brawler and infantryman, not a kung fu expert like everyone on TV these days. A gun deal gone wrong in the second episode leads to the series’ best executed action sequence, which involves a chaotic gun battle and a uniquely staged car chase. But where Quarry really connects is with its vision of the American underbelly. As The Broker says, “We live in an age of superfluous men.” Mac is one of those men, struggling to find his way between the demands of the rich and powerful, whose games he barely understands, and his need to be a moral person.