Based on the novel by Petra Hammesfahr, The Sinner follows Cora Tannetti (Jessica Biel), whose life spirals out of control after she commits a seemingly senseless murder in broad daylight. As she tries to unravel the psychological layers behind her crime with the help of the gruff, troubled Detective Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman), secrets begin to come out and forgotten memories bubble to the surface.
It’s an intriguing premise, and the show masterfully uses that intrigue to reel you in from the opening minutes of its first episode. Developed by relative newcomer Derek Simonds, The Sinner masterfully uses its slow-burner pacing to draw out the mystery while avoiding the trap of stretching the material too thin. The direction and cinematography, which can at times evoke the work of David Fincher (Se7en, Gone Girl), perfectly suits the mood and feel of the story.
Though many mystery shows rely on plot twists in the story to keep a sense of excitement, they can often feel cheap and unearned—plot twists for the sake of plot twists. The Sinner manages to avoid this genre pitfall, and Simonds and his team of writers do an excellent job of respecting the storyline. When a shocking event happens in the show, it makes sense within the context of the story, building on strong character arcs and never throwing one in for a cheap thrill.
All of this is built upon a foundation of outstanding performances from the cast. Biel’s performance as the troubled Cora Tannetti is impressive, subtle and layered with emotional complexity. Pullman, easily the most experienced in the small cast, gives an equally riveting performance, managing to garner empathy for his character despite his questionable ethics. The weakest link is probably Christopher Abbott as Biel’s husband Mason Tannetti, who plays the character as just a bit too dark and brooding.
As it stands, The Sinner may turn out to be one of the biggest surprises of 2017. It’s an enthralling watch, one that hooks you right from the start with its excellent storytelling, and keeps you watching for of its solid performances.
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