The Three Strike Rule: “The Bridge: The Complete First Season” and “Prisoners of War: Season One”

BridgeS1DVDOne of the most gripping mystery series of last summer FX’s The Bridge, now available in DVD and Blu-ray. Set on the U.S./Mexico border of El Paso and Juarez, the series begins with the discovery of a dead woman’s body on the bridge that connects the two countries. Compounding the lack of clues in the homicide is the fact that the body is half on the U.S. portion of the bridge and half on the Mexican side. The detectives who arrive to investigate are Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger), a smart, intense woman living with Asperger syndrome, and Marco Ruiz (Demian Bichir), one of the few honest cops working for Policía Estatal (the State Police) of the Mexican state of Chihuahua.

Cross and Ruiz butt immediately heads, especially when he allows an ambulance carrying a wealthy Texan to cross through the crime scene so that the man can get to a hospital. Besides threatening to write up Ruiz, Cross demands the case belongs to her. In a surprising move, Ruiz lets her have it. “We have enough bodies of our own,” he tells her before turning around and heading for home.

Later, when an autopsy is performed, it’s discovered that the corpse is actually two bodies sewn together. One half belongs to an American woman, the other to a missing Mexican woman. This complication means that Cross must work with the Mexican police, and Ruiz is brought in to help track down a serial killer.

As with all of FX’s excellent series (I believe it’s the finest network for dramas at the moment), The Bridge more than just the mystery of the dead woman; it’s about the characters who are drawn together by this murder. Cross leads a lonely, complicated life. She’s reeling from the death of her sister and is troubled by the pending resignation of her lieutenant and mentor, Hank Wade (Ted Levine). The relationship between Wade and Cross is compelling. Not only does he mentor her on police work, but he’s taken on the role of big brother in keeping her out of harm’s way.

Kruger is a West German actress best known for those National Treasure movies starring Nicolas Cage, and her great work in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds. In The Bridge, she has the difficult task of taking a woman audiences may root for because she has Asperger syndrome, and making her prickly and unlikable. While her flaws may be on the page, Kruger humanizes Cross, creating a well-rounded character.

Ruiz’s life is complicated by the pressure to take money from the cartel and help them with their international crime ring. His home life doesn’t offer him much respite. He has a big family, including a teenage son, and he has a wandering eye when it comes to fidelity. While Ruiz is noble in his job, his personal life makes him a difficult man to feel too much compassion.

You may recognize Bichir if you were a fan of Showtime’s Weeds or you saw last year’s Sandra Bullock/Melissa McCarthy hit, The Heat. He was also nominated for an Academy Award for 2011’s A Better Life. His work on The Bridge ranks as some of the best in 2013. It isn’t showy and will likely get overshadowed when it comes time for the Emmys, but you will be hard pressed to find better acting than his performance in this series.

Other characters and plots intertwine with Cross and Ruiz, including Frye, a sleazy reporter who gets entangled with the serial killer. Frye is played by Matthew Lillard, doing some of the best acting of his career. Annabeth Gish plays the wife of the rich man in the ambulance. When her husband dies, she discovers that his sprawling ranch was also entryway of a tunnel leading from Mexico to Texas. She must decide whether to work with the cartel or suffer the consequences. Finally, Thomas Wright is Steven Linder, a mysterious man whose intentions are as big a mystery as the case of the dead woman.

The Bridge was developed for American television by Meredith Stiehm and Elwood Reid, based on a Danish/Swedish series of the same name. This is a growing trend in American television, taking a successful foreign series and making it into an American version. We’ve seen it be successful, as in Showtime’s Homeland, and struggle in ratings, as in AMC’s The Killing. The Bridge may not have the audience that Homeland gets, but it’s certainly one of the best reviewed series in the past year. It also won the Peabody Award in 2013. A second season is set to begin July 9th. Set your DVR’s and binge watch the complete first season on home video. I have no doubt you’ll get hooked right away.

Speaking of Homeland, Shout! Factory is releasing Prisoners of War: Season One on DVD, July 8th. Prisoners of War is the original Israeli POWS1Cover72dpidrama upon which the Clare Danes/Damian Lewis Showtime drama is based. Unlike its American counterpart, Prisoners of War is a more sprawling drama, one that follows the lives of the families of three Israeli prisoners of war who were held captive for 17 years after a secret mission in Lebanon.

Three men were held captive, but only two return home. When they get back, they quickly learn that their families and the world have moved on without them. Nimrod (Yoram Toledano) is an intelligent man who comes home to a wife, Talia (Yael Abecassis), who has been steadfast in her belief that he would return, but at a cost to her relationship with her children. Daughter Dana (Yael Eitan) is rebellious and harbors resentment toward her mother and father, and son Hatzav (Guy Selnik) has no idea who Nimrod is, as he was born after his father was taken hostage.

Uri (Ishai Golan) is withdrawn and timid. When he was taken hostage, he was engaged to Nurit (Mili Avital). They swore that they’d love each other forever. In her grief over Uri’s abduction, Nurit fell in love with Uri’s brother, Taakov (Mickey Leon). They married and had a son. The government, in an attempt to ease Uri back into society, asks Nurit to act as if she’s still in love with him. What they don’t realize is that Uri’s aware that it’s a charade; he’s known since he was in captivity that Nurit married his brother.

The third prisoner is Amiel (Assi Cohen), who is believed to be dead. His sister, Yasi (Adi Ezroni) has a hard time accepting his death and begins to see him in visions.

As the families struggle to make sense of the past 17 years and begin dealing with wounds reopened by the return of the prisoners, the details of what happened while they were held captive are slowly revealed, as well as clues as to why they were actually released.

Prisoners of War slower paced than Homeland, this was due in part to it having to deal with the lives of all three families, as well as the government investigating their release. Having seen the first season of Homeland, it was interesting to watch what the creators of the American series drew from to use in their show. While Clare Danes and Damian Lewis certainly made for intense television viewing, I found Prisoners of War to be just as compelling and addictive.

The DVD set includes a making of featurette that includes interviews with the cast and series creator, Gideon Raff. In addition, there are multiple episode commentaries by Raff and Director of Photography Itai Neeman. The show is subtitled, but that shouldn’t deter you from checking it out.