Netflix’s ‘Ozark’ with Jason Bateman, Laura Linney uses Lake Lanier, Allatoona

Jason Bateman and Laura Linney play a couple in a bit of a trouble with a Mexican drug cartel. CREDIT: Netflix

This was posted on Friday, July 21, 2017 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Jason Bateman’s character Marty Byrde on “Ozark” is stressed-out financial expert, trying to dig himself out a huge hole that has placed his life and his family’s lives in danger. During a sleep-deprived moment, he watches Sarah McLachlan on late-night TV doing her usual pitch for helping abandoned, suffering animals when she addresses him directly.

“Marty,” she said in his hallucination. “I don’t trust you to care for these animals. If you adopt them, they will die.”

The specter of death is over-arching on Netflix’s latest drama “Ozark,” shot largely on Lake Allatoona and Lake Lanier but also other parts of metro Atlanta and the Ozarks as well. (The series is available starting today, July 21, on Netflix.)

Marty, who has been money laundering for a major Mexican drug cartel for years, owes his drug lord boss a serious amount of cash due to a sticky-fingered partner. Gun to his head, he convinces his boss to allow him and his family to flee Chicago and go to the Ozarks to prove he can launder $8 million in a short period of time and regain the man’s trust.

In the Ozarks, Marty is not welcome with open arms, even with a cache of cash to spend.

“There is an ignorance and arrogance with the Byrdes,” said Laura Linney, the Emmy-winning actress who plays Bateman’s philandering wife Wendy. “They think they can waltz into the Ozarks and do whatever they want.”

They also drag along their two children, who are victims of their parents’ chicanery. Neither mom nor dad faces that truth with any insight or forethought.

“She’s someone who just doesn’t know herself well,” Linney said. “She’s smart and articulate and capable but not very self aware. She’s very reactive.”

“Ozark,” which runs 10 episodes, is not designed for multiple seasons, Bateman said in a phone interview Tuesday. In his mind, it’s more an extended movie, not a series.

“It doesn’t end in a way that’s obnoxiously open ended” he said. “We wanted to give everything we had in hopes people will like it enough to do a sequel as opposed to a second season… There is a clear beginning, middle and end.”

He spent 13 months in the area working on “Ozark” as a producer, lead actor and director of four episodes. He’s shot at least three previous movies in Atlanta as well. “I should have a Southern accent by now,” he mused.

Bateman said the tax credits were a primary draw to Georgia, but the lakes certainly did the job of capturing the look he was seeking for the show. “It provided the rural aesthetic as well as the lake environment,” he said. “The only real inconsistency to the Ozarks is the lake levels in Georgia fluctuate throughout the year. The lakes of the Ozarks don’t do that. The edges of the lakes here are more exposed. We thought for awhile if we should fix it digitally later but decided it wasn’t that big a deal.”

Linney enjoyed her six months on set, said it felt a bit like summer camp. “My whole family is from southern Georgia,” she said. I’ve been to Atlanta a little bit, not a whole lot. I certainly have spent time on Lake Lanier in the past. The lakes are gorgeous, just beautiful. I felt very much at home.”

And she jumped on the project partly as an opportunity to work with the well-respected Bateman. “We have similar tastes, similar ways of working,” she said. “I’ve reached a point in my career where I don’t want to spend time with people I don’t like. I liked being around this cast and crew.”

The echoes of “Breaking Bad” are hard to avoid in “Ozark,” though Marty doesn’t revel in his immorality quite as much as Walter White ultimately did.

Rather, Bateman likes Marty’s everyman quality, a quality Bateman himself naturally owns in almost every film and TV show he’s starred in, including “Arrested Development,” which is also part of the Netflix family.

“While most people have eccentricities, most try to stay in the median of their personality,” he said. “That’s Marty. He’s like a proxy for the viewer.” At the same time, Marty justifies his questionable ethics through “hubris and intelligence,” saying he needs the money for the sake of his family. (Sound familiar, Walter White?)

The most notable revelation is Julia Garner (Kimmy from “The Americans”) as a tough-as-nails 19 year old who heads a family of Ozark con artists while her criminal daddy is in prison.

“Julia is an incredible actress,” Bateman said. “She motivated the writers to dig in even more with her character. She’s just a perfect actress to play that part in so far as we weren’t looking for a stereotype. These people have a very definite idea of what is right and wrong. There is a lot of pride. She’s able to play the ruralness without being a hick. She’s a formidable opponent to Marty.”

Ruth (Julia Garner) decides to work with Marty (Jason Batemen) but she’s not doing it for any altruistic reasons. CREDIT: Netflix

So far, critics have mostly liked this morality play of a show though some found it lethargic and derivative. Metacritic, as of today, compiled 17 positive reviews and 10 mixed reviews, with an average of 68 out of 100. Viewers after four days have rated it a solid 80 out of 100.

Entertainment Weekly couldn’t help but reference “Breaking Bad” in its positive review: “Bateman’s commanding performance powers a gripping, twisty, sometimes spotty yarn that plays like ‘Breaking Bad’ in reverse, a darkly comic deconstruction of antihero fantasy about a man flailing to rediscover the value of human life.”

Alan Sepinwall of Uproxx, on the other hand, found the premise tired and execution failing to transcend past tropes: “What might have felt like a novel idea 10 or 15 years ago–middle-aged white anti-hero does something terrible to help his family, and only gets pulled in deeper and deeper–is now so tired that it would require sheer brilliance to come out feeling as fresh and untainted as all the money that Marty cleans. And Ozark isn’t up to that challenge.

TV PREVIEW

“Ozark,” 3:01 a.m. debut on Friday, July 21, 2017, Netflix


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