Why do we bloody love a heist?
Most of us are unlikely to actually execute one (you’d likely be reading this from prison), so we live vicariously through ultimate crews of nicknamed misfits thrown together through niche skills and legendary backstories. We need greasemen, drivers, and explosives experts to distract us from our own nine-to-fives. We want the ol’ bait and switch, nail-biter safe-cracking scenes, and planning montages drenched in wah-wah pedal-heavy funk. Most of all, we love an anti-hero who screws over the one percent in style.
What we don’t always get, aside from sequels like Ocean’s 12, is what happens after the heist. Will they actually get away with it? How are you going to hide and spend all that gold without fleeing to somewhere without extradition? Hulu/Disney+ series Culprits picks up after the loot is gone and the team split, but rather than getting the band back together, they’re running from an assassin with no real allegiance to each other but to stay alive long enough to find out who it is.
While the material may not reinvent the screeching getaway car wheel, the series boasts a talented cast, big action scenes, and enough time jump confusion to keep you on your toes.
What is Culprits about?
Nathan Stewart-Jarrett as David aka Joe aka Muscle.
If you’re wondering why Culprits isn’t a film instead of an eight-episode series, it’s based on an anthology, Culprits: The Heist Was Only The Beginning, a collection of stories about criminals post-heist. It was snapped up by The Undoing producer Stephen Garrett for the screen and adapted by I Care A Lot‘s J Blakeson, who co-directed the series with Claire Oakley.
Culprits begrudgingly reunites a crew of heist specialists who have moved on with their lives and the loot. Years after a major one-and-out job in London went haywire, a masked assassin is tracking them down. It’s basically like Ocean’s 12, when Terry Benedict locates all eleven crew members and demands his money returned. But it’s eight hours long, instead of two, which comes with its pros and cons — you can potentially dig deeper into each character, play a longer, more realistic game, but the heist genre usually benefits from brevity to keep the thrills high.
Leading the series is compelling target=”_self”>Candyman, Genera+ion, and Misfits star Nathan Stewart-Jarrett as protagonist David Marking, a family man and hopeful restaurant owner living a quiet life in Washington State with his partner Jules (Kevin Vidal) and super cute kids. But David’s heisting past threatens to unravel his suburban bliss and his new identity under the name Joe Petrus. Before the killer makes it to America, David must track down his former crew mates in the UK and figure out who’s targeting them.
Culprits sticks to the heist genre hard
Tara Abboud, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Gemma Arterton, and Kirby in “Culprits.”
If Culprits feels derivative of heist movies and TV before it, at least the series respectfully sticks to formula, pulling a number of switcheroos — most notably beginning post-heist and switching up the timeline. The heist at its core is your classic “one last job”, the ultimate haul that will set this bunch of misfits up for life. Of course, the plan will go off the rails. Of course, the boss has an ace up their sleeve. Of course, explosions will be bigger than expected when you were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off.
For the heist itself, the series leans on a talented cast to bring their own flare to the trope-filled script: think covert meetings in galleries, high speed chases, coded messages in the classified section. The crew are handed monikers snipped from classic caper cloth: Fixer, Right Hand, Muscle, Driver, Fuse, Greaseman, Specialist, Soldier, Officer. (“It’s like being in a movie, no?” retorts Driver). And they’re all steered by Brain aka Dianne Harewood, played with ice cold M-style (and the best costumes of the entire cast) by Gemma Arterton.
Gemma Arterton as Dianne Harewood aka Brain.
When you’re watching Arterton’s unblinking “stick to the plan” monologue during the series’ requisite blueprint briefing scene, it feels overtly familiar to the genre — and it eliminates the planning element of the heist with everything already done. But while this reduction of characters to their handles seems intended to make it easier to remember who did what during the heist, it’s somewhat restrictive for character development and camaraderie. While rooting for the team is vital for a heist, it’s even more important if you’re going to start killing them off.
With Stewart-Jarrett and Arterton up front, the cast (featuring way more women than most heist tales beyond Ocean’s 8) is strong enough to find their own footing, with standouts including The Good Place star Kirby as the mischievous Officer, The Wonder‘s Niamh Algar as the psychotic Specialist, Tara Abboud as the safe-cracking Azar, and national treasure Suzy Eddie Izzard almost stealing the series in a surprise role.
Niamh Algar as Specialist.
But unlike a Guy Ritchie or Steven Soderbergh cast, they’re not really given enough banter to define their bonds, to give the audience moments of comic relief amid the chaos — depending on where in the timeline we are, they literally either just met or haven’t seen each other in years. Throughout the series, they’re mostly chasing their own tails instead of pulling an elaborate con, and while they do have moments of genuine connection, they’re pretty fleeting.
As for the masked assassin himself, only known as Devil, the series’ primary villain barely invokes fear or style, instead slow-walking into every scene like Jason Vorhees in athleisure wear and playing to the overtly melodramatic violence that’s more likely to open a BBC murder-of-the-week show. Honestly, a team full of heist specialists couldn’t take on this one dude?
Like Money Heist, the series takes itself deeply seriously, trying to keep the action closer to reality than any Mission Impossible film will. This level of dark realism means we miss out on the silliness that can come with a good heist tale: the banter, the hijinks, and moments of false bravado. But there really isn’t enough time for that, amid all the time jumps.
Culprits‘ time jumps make you work
A flurry of moving pieces, the series doesn’t just live in the present, instead jumping back and forth to before, during, and after the heist. It’s the kind of disruption that worked for Netflix’s Kaleidoscope, a series that owned the structure shake-up by encouraging viewers to watch the episodes out of order. But here, it’s entirely up to the director, which makes for some hard work for the viewer.
One of the least fun parts of the series’ reliance on time jumps, however, is the lack of stakes for the heist itself. The real nature of the target is kept under wraps for most of the season, which makes it really only Brain’s emotional investment and the crew’s cash to pick up at the end of the day. Without stakes, it becomes just a cursed suitcase of money for each crew member with little connection. But without the full details of the job, we have little to fight for, and not knowing the truth for eight episodes is a hard ask.
The time jumps also make it tricky to really get to know the team that well beyond David due to the majority of the show happening after the crime. But with David, it’s truly fun to watch him practically manage living post-heist: where his creative stash hiding places are, where his secret SIM lies, how he MacGyvers home security. And Stewart-Jarrett creates his own reality to fight for in his moving scenes with Vidal, both of whom make every one of their scenes count.
If you’re looking for a heist series that follows the formula with time jumps, action sequences, and a compelling cast to boot, Culprits is worth a watch. If anything, it might give you too many good ideas…