Continuing Sundance Channel’s very European approach to drama, “The Red Road” grinds along slowly, a mere six-episode series with the same languid pace as the network’s earlier foray, “Rectify.” In this later case, the format doesn’t entirely work, although it does create enough tension — thanks in large part to the scary, visually imposing presence of “Game of Thrones” alum Jason Momoa — to pull the audience along through this “Road’s” modest twists and turns. While certainly not bad, the series would be better if it came with fewer built-in speed bumps, and a little more narrative momentum.
Momoa plays Phillip, an ex-con who grew up on a Native-American reservation, and who looks like the last guy in the world anyone would want to mess with even when he’s standing perfectly still. “Did you kill him in the house?” he asks a slightly twitchy friend, merely part of the underlying mysteries that series creator Aaron Guzikowski (working with showrunner Bridget Carpenter) exhibits little interest in rushing to disgorge.
The central conflict, meanwhile, stems from a relationship between Phillip’s little brother (Kiowa Gordon), a virtual stranger to him; and Rachel (Allie Gonino), the daughter of Harold (Martin Henderson), a local sheriff in Walpole, N.J.
Harold’s wife (Julianne Nicholson) is none too happy about this across-the-tracks romance, and her mental troubles begin leading the characters down a path rife with tragic consequences, slicked by the fact that Phillip is engaged in nefarious activities on behalf of his grizzled father (Tom Sizemore), making his interactions with Harold all the more suspect and uncomfortable. Having grown up in the same small town, there’s also an element of history that adds wrinkles to the story.
Like “Rectify,” six episodes is probably more than enough to get a sense of whether the concept is working. But getting by on mood-centric atmosphere is a delicate balancing act, and while Momoa projects the aura of a very mercurial dude who might go off at a moment’s notice, dangling the threat without much in the way of action only goes so far. (Lisa Bonet, incidentally, joins the show in the third episode.)
Credit Sundance with rather quickly finding a tone that distinguishes the channel from other players in the drama game, dabbling in an indie-film sensibility that dovetails with the movies it offers.
Still, there is a distinction between daring to follow a road less traveled and actually delivering a series that makes viewers want to hang around, even if it’s just for the short haul.