Monday, January 09, 2017


I rented the 4 x DVD set of the first season of Showtime's "Billions" last week, we watched it over 4 nights - 3 episodes a sitting. I'd been keen to see it due to its leading actors: Paul Giamatti and Damian Lewis, two of my favourites. The series' subject matter (the world of high finance and hedge funds) isn't one that fills me with enthusiasm, but with these two in leading roles I'd watch absolutely anything!

Messrs Giamatti and Lewis didn't let me down - they never have, never will. Two first-class actors who put acting before celebrity, and can play perfectly just about any role presented to them.

In "Billions" Paul Giamatti as Chuck Rhoades, US Attorney for New York's southern district, an intense, determined, occasionally with peculiar quirks, is the major foe of Bobby Axelrod (played by Damian Lewis), a self-made billionaire, from humble background. Axelrod's obscene wealth comes from shady manipulations of financial markets. It's a tale with classic pedigree - think along the lines of Jean Valjean & Javert (Les Miserables), or Captain Ahab and Moby Dick, and you'll have the story's general theme of cat and mouse - but in this case which is which?

The series' other DNA strand is the anti-hero genre, one that has become popular of late. Viewers feel they should seriously dislike Bobby Axelrod ("Axe") the billionaire, but he's too charismatic, generous and nicely humane in so many ways that it's difficult. US Attorney Chuck Rhoades has moments of rage, moments of sweetness, moments of peculiarity, yet retains integrity, keen sense of justice, and humanity. These men are both multi-layered, strong characters - it takes great actors to play them. I'm not convinced that the whole story-line is quite up to standard, we're required to suspend disbelief here and there, but it does, just about get by, confidently carried by the actors' undeniable talents.

"Billions" has many quirks all its own, as became obvious from the opening scene of episode 1 when we saw US Attorney Chuck Rhoades bound and gagged, about to have a stiletto heel imprinted in his chest with something warm to follow!

The wives of US Attorney and billionaire provide good foils to all projected "alpha male" goings on: Maggie Siff as Wendy Rhoades, a psychiatrist/performance coach who works for Axelrod's firm, and Malin Aker as Lara Axelrod who runs her own restaurant.

Matters of high finance are a closed book to me, even after having seen other movies with a similar theme. I had to learn again, as the 12 episodes unfolded, what is "a short", "insider trading", a "squeezed short" etc.

It's not easy to see how a second series of Billions could follow; if a follow-up is intended. I'm wondering if, perhaps, it'd be in the same vein as the second season of True Detective: different cast of characters, same broad theme.

I'm glad to have added Billions to my list of "seen" performances by Giamatti and Lewis, and now look forward to their next outings, whatever they may be.

It's Music Monday - staying with a theme cat & mouse chases, though in very different environment:

"Pancho and Lefty" - Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard

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