Populated by series like “Broadchurch,” “Happy Valley,” “Top of the Lake” and various versions of “The Bridge,” a TV subgenre has flourished in recent years: It depicts the aftermath of a serious crime in a relatively enclosed community. It’s a niche that the Steven Soderbergh-directed “Mosaic” fits into comfortably; the HBO limited series is a solid and generally satisfying addition to this mystery-thriller category.
The creative teams behind these series typically use the core transgression to delve into the workings of power, money, intimidation and influence in communities that seem close-knit but are actually messy and full of conflict. “Mosaic,” which stars Sharon Stone, Beau Bridges, Frederick Weller and a skilled ensemble, is set in a Utah resort community that revolves around skiing and mineral extraction, and the viewer never quite forgets that mountains and mines can be unforgiving places to get lost. The chilly, windswept setting of Park City, Utah amplifies the sense of frustration and alienation the characters often feel.
Successful writer Olivia Lake (Stone) appears to have a picture-perfect life, but under the surface, she’s lonely and doesn’t have the funds to maintain her lavish mountain estate. The handyman she hires soon feels as trapped as his employer, who is at least more charitably inclined than the richest of her art-collecting neighbors.
Much of the story takes on the contours of a modern-day film noir: “Mosaic” explores the progress of doomed romances and the ways in which the greedy work to suppress and manipulate the less powerful and insufficiently ruthless. Stone, who displays terrific range and depth, holds the screen with effortless charisma, but there are elements of Olivia’s past, and secrets in the life of her new lover, that bring danger into both of their lives. Paul Reubens is wonderfully tart as Olivia’s best friend, who fears she is making another relationship mistake, and yet he holds out hope that investor Eric Neill (Weller) might be the right one for her.
The narrative can be a bit jagged and the Soderbergh-ian tone is typically dry, but the cast does a fine job of injecting passion and nuance into their characters’ plights. Weller is particularly good as a shady man who tries to go straight, but who runs into a series of obstacles that only get more intimidating and immovable over time. Michael Cerveris and James Ransone play very wealthy residents who own the choicest spots on the local mountain, and who think that the community should be happy with the version of law and order that the town’s rich residents are willing to pay for.
A few months before it arrived on HBO, “Mosaic” debuted as an app that allows users to supplement the narrative with other kinds of materials, or even rearrange how the story’s twists and turns play out. The app is easy to use and elegant, but not necessarily essential to the “Mosaic” experience. The HBO presentation is generally more compelling, in that it gives Soderbergh and writer Ed Solomon 50 minutes per episode to present the peaks and valleys of the story in the way they see fit, and they are more than up to the task.
“Mosaic” airs over five consecutive nights, and it is probably best consumed in one or two sittings. Even with the help of the app, it can occasionally be a bit difficult to recall how certain characters are linked to each other (and the viewer will be reminded of the app’s different aesthetic and storytelling needs when characters look directly into the camera or when unusual angles are employed). The good news is that, after a somewhat bumpy start, the drama gains momentum over time, especially when Petra Neill (Jennifer Ferrin) turns up to ask residents and local cops the kinds of awkward questions they’d rather not answer. As the mystery gets juicier and the implications for the town’s elite become more serious, Garrett Hedlund’s hapless handyman character becomes believably frayed, and the proceedings are further enlivened by excellent supporting performances from Beau Bridges, Allison Tolman, Jeremy Bobb and Maya Kazan.
“Mosaic,” like many of the best mystery tales, provides some unsentimental social commentary along with the solution of a crime. In the background, behind the depictions of long cons, semi-gullible cops, angry lawyers and desperate affairs, there’s a flinty meditation on how the rich get richer — and quietly but systematically make sure things stay that way.