Jason Bateman Deserves to Be Taken Seriously

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The longtime straight man in comedies has just lately turned his consideration to appearing in, and directing, crime dramas. He’s not the first actor to make the tonal shift, however he’s managed to navigate it seamlessly.

Jason Bateman has a really punchable face, and I mean this in the absolute best means. He doesn’t have what some individuals describe as resting bitch face; it’s more like a resting smug face. (Or, as my colleague Shea Serrano aptly referred to as it in 2018, the Jason Bateman Face.) Bateman has used his signature facial features to great effect in his decades-long profession as an actor—you possibly can rely on that look popping up onscreen as a lot as you'll be able to Daniel Day-Lewis going full Technique en path to an Oscar nomination. However the expression may also manifest in some sudden locations.

At the 2019 Emmy Awards, the prevailing sentiment was that Recreation of Thrones would sweep a variety of the dramatic categories, regardless of the ultimate season’s dip in quality and basic lack of coherence. In the Outstanding Directing for a Drama Collection class alone, Thrones represented three of the seven nominees. Suffice to say, the viewers was shocked when Bateman’s name was called for his directing in Ozark, leading to immediate meme materials:

Three of the most obvious holy shit reactions in that shot belong to Bateman’s spouse, Amanda Anka, and his Ozark costars Laura Linney and Julia Garner, the latter of whom gained an Emmy for Excellent Supporting Actress in a Drama Collection. (I’m not the most important Ozark stan, but Garner is consistently throwing heaters on the show as probably the most intimidating baby-faced teenager on television.) However despite the fact that Bateman is responding with what I can solely assume is shock, there’s still a faint—if maybe unintentional—look of understanding self-satisfaction spread throughout his face. Intentional or not, he’s earned the appropriate to flex.

While Bateman is primarily recognized for portraying the straight man in ensemble comedies or sitcoms by which he can play off of wackier costars (see: Arrested Improvement), the actor has lately pivoted to extra dramatic work—and, as you possibly can surmise from the directing Emmy, he’s additionally started chopping his tooth behind the digital camera. The primary car for that career flip is the aforementioned Ozark, the Netflix collection molded—typically to a fault—in the type of basic antihero crime dramas like Breaking Dangerous and The Sopranos. On the show, which returns for a third season on Friday, Bateman plays Marty Byrde, an accountant who launders cash for a Mexican drug cartel by means of businesses within the Lake of the Ozarks, along together with his now-complicit spouse and youngsters. (The large centerpiece of the Byrdes’ operation in Season three is a riverboat casino.) You’ll be shocked to find that working for a cartel comes with some deadly consequences—when Netflix despatched critics screeners for the third season, one of the firm’s two requests was not to spoil, quote, “ALL the deaths.” (Minor spoiler: There are, indeed, loads of deaths.)

A comedic actor shifting to more dramatic work isn't completely unprecedented, notably in the antihero style. Before Breaking Dangerous, viewers knew Bryan Cranston as Malcolm’s dad, and Bob Odenkirk—now killing it main the spinoff collection Better Call Saul—as one half of a well-liked ’90s sketch comedy series. This type of path already has been paved, so whereas Bateman isn’t exactly a comedy-to-drama trailblazer, his specific, skillful smugness has led to probably the most seamless transitions of its variety.

As Marty, Bateman continues to be a (comparatively) affordable man in a world of eccentric drug lords and petty criminals—characters whose personal exuberances match their lofty ambitions. However simply because Marty isn’t susceptible to violence or emotional outbursts doesn’t make him any less insidious than the individuals he works with. On other antihero dramas, characters attempt to justify their amoral conduct or try and curb their worst impulses—Walter White repeatedly insisted he turned Heisenberg to go away money behind for his family; Tony Soprano went to therapy. The scary factor about Marty is that he doesn’t seem notably torn about who he is or what he’s doing. From the beginning of the collection, Marty seems more than prepared to simply accept that he’s a shitty individual, which colors the best way he glibly interacts with bosses, subordinates, and his household.

Right here, Bateman’s resting smug face isn’t played for laughs, however used to painting a sort of baseline apathy toward every part round him that permits Marty to shrug off the nastier sides of the enterprise and emotionally disassociate from his family members. I swear he treats an Excel sheet with more heat than he exhibits to his personal youngsters. Really, the only thing that gets an increase out of him are ongoing conflicts together with his spouse, Wendy (performed by Linney), who has taken to cash laundering with alarming ease and whose ambitions don’t all the time align together with her husband’s in the third season. (Linney has her own trademark expression on Ozark: a wry, condescending smile that typically alerts a literal dying sentence for anybody getting in her means.) In skipping the step the place viewers might attempt to empathize with or justify the characters’ conduct in the antihero genre, Ozark paints a bleak portrait of a household barreling towards oblivion without even in search of the brakes.

But Ozark wasn’t the beginning and end of Bateman’s pivot towards drama. In between the second and third seasons of Ozark, Bateman took a detour on the HBO miniseries/Stephen King adaptation The Outsider, which also allowed him to do some directing. In front of the digital camera, Bateman played Terry Maitland, somewhat league coach in small-town Georgia who’s suspected of mutilating and killing a younger boy. (Minor spoilers for The Outsider incoming.)

The proof pointing to Terry because the killer is as definitive as it's perplexing. A witness sees blood all over Terry’s face in a parking zone close to where the boy died, and there’s ample surveillance footage of him making his means by way of city afterward; in the meantime, there’s conflicting evidence that Terry was attending an out-of-town conference when the killing happened. The Outsider doesn’t maintain the uncertainty going for lengthy—things get supernatural, it’s Stephen King, in any case—but Terry’s innocence is more durable to take care of in the viewer’s eyes as a result of his default setting is just so enigmatic. The Outsider does a superb job of weaponizing the Jason Bateman Face to create suspicion till the nature of Terry’s murderous doppelgänger is revealed.

But The Outsider additionally reminds us that Bateman, for all he can do with that face, is capable of rather more when given the chance to flex some other appearing muscle mass. Maybe one of the best moment of your complete miniseries happens firstly of the second episode, when an incarcerated Terry talks with the lead detective, Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn), about his innocence and the detective’s late son, who used to play on Terry’s little league staff. It’s a devastating scene that makes it abundantly clear that Terry is just a regular guy trapped in an unimaginably horrible state of affairs; it’s a wrenching last stand from Bateman earlier than his character is shot and killed outdoors of the courthouse by an aggrieved family member of the slain youngster.

Bateman’s swift, tragic exit from The Outsider was surprising within the second, however is sensible in practical phrases. He’s already starring in and directing one other drama collection; juggling both would in all probability have been unsustainable until he really could possibly be in two locations directly, like his HBO character. However between Ozark and The Outsider, Jason Bateman has cemented himself as an ideal dramatic actor and an Emmy-winning director—somebody who deserves to be taken significantly. And who might blame him for being slightly smug about that?