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“A Man in Full” on Netflix: A Stellar Cast Tackles Tom Wolfe’s Novel

The buzz was palpable when it was announced that David E. Kelley, the force behind critically acclaimed series such as Big Little Lies and The Undoing, was pairing with celebrated director Regina King, lauded for her directorial work on One Night in Miami, to bring Tom Wolfe’s second novel, A Man in Full, to the small screen. Naturally, expectations soared, given Kelley’s knack for crafting engaging, layered television, despite his earlier less coherent Love & Death.

Expectations meet reality with the release of the limited series, which boasts an assembly of intricate and impressive performances. The show’s premise centers on the grandiose 60th birthday celebration of Atlanta’s real estate mogul, Charlie Croker, portrayed by the ever-versatile Jeff Daniels. The series sets the stage introducing the key players of this intricate human drama, including Croker’s current and former spouses played by Sarah Jones and Diane Lane, along with his children and adversaries. With an array of complex characters such as the predatory bankers seeking to topple Croker’s empire, the stage is thus set for a compelling narrative.

Croker is besieged from all sides as he grapples with an overwhelming $800 million debt that bankers Harry Zale, a role imbued with sinister intent by Bill Camp, and his crony Raymond Peepgrass, played with slick coldness by Tom Pelphrey, are intent on collecting. While Croker strives against the odds to secure funds, time, or a saving benefactor, his world is further rocked by a series of personal crises. Among such is the plight of his secretary’s spouse, Conrad, who faces a severe legal ordeal after an altercation with a police officer, casting a stark light on the American justice system’s racial biases.

What unfolds is a narrative replete with twists and turns, including a grim incident of jailhouse violence along with the bewilderingly swift alliances and betrayals woven into the high-stakes world of Croker’s circle. The series presents Daniels diving headfirst into the larger-than-life character of Croker, masterfully delivering scorching lines that encapsulate the brash and bombastic essence of his persona. The ensemble cast, featuring Diane Lane, William Jackson Harper, Jon Michael Hill, and Lucy Liu, deftly navigate their roles, which are at times enigmatic and seemingly underdeveloped, adding to the show’s complex tapestry.

However, A Man in Full, with its myriad subplots and significant glances exchanged by the characters in this propulsive drama, ultimately leaves viewers looking for an emotional anchor or deeper resonance, which seems elusive amidst the flurry of events. The show’s ending, peculiarly involving a buzzing robotic knee, may stand as a metaphor for a series rich in production value and performances but lacking the heartbeat one would expect from such a gathering of storytelling talent.

With A Man in Full now available for streaming on Netflix, it stands as a testament to the potential heights dramatic television can reach when production prowess meets an all-star lineup. Yet, as viewers have come to expect more than mere surface-level intrigues, the series can feel like a beautifully wrapped package that lacks the expected substance inside. As onlookers now anticipate Kelley’s forthcoming project, an adaptation of Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent, there’s hope for a return to form with a narrative as gripping as its production is polished.