Planman

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Sunday, Nov. 11, 8-10 p.m.
BBC America

The roly-poly and distinctively eccentric Robbie Coltrane raises "The Planman" to the level of art with a dynamic performance that's at once complex and unrestrained.

It's like watching an acting clinic to see how this boisterous Brit -- who has distinguished himself in the "Harry Potter" films, "GoldenEye" and the British edition of "Cracker" -- is able to command the screen without devouring the scenery that surrounds him.

In this BBC America film, he portrays Jack Lennox, a flamboyant, high-powered Glasgow barrister who uses his legal skills to keep sloppy crooks from rotting in the slammer. Not exactly an ethically upstanding existence. But then it gets worse, and the way it does feels entirely organic and tantalizingly original in the screenplay from scribe Stuart Hepbum. It winds up playing as a character-rich heist flick of unusual intelligence.

Coltrane's Lennox is a tortured soul drowning his emptiness in booze and books. He's trapped in a loveless marriage to a cold fish of a Scottish Parliament member (Celia Imrie) and feels like things might have turned out differently if only he had managed to use his brain for something more substantial than crafting imaginary crime scenarios and cutting those in his life to ribbons with his sharp wit.

He winds up getting far more than he bargained for after landing an acquittal for a cop (Vincent Regan) who had been prosecuted on an elaborate corruption charge. What Lennox doesn't know is that the assistant chief constable (Neil Dudgeon) who had helped make the case against his client is actually also doing his wife.

But it turns out that our favorite portly attorney will soon have a juicy secret of his own. After innocently attending a soccer match with the guy he had just helped land an acquittal and innocently describing for him a theoretical (but only theoretical) plan to pull off the perfect bank robbery, the guy actually does it, leaving for the unwitting "planman" an envelope full of cash for his trouble.

His excitement piqued, Lennox can't help himself from diving headlong into a new sideline masterminding a crime ring. Not that we haven't suspected lawyers of all being evil anyway, but it's intriguing to see one running his own dual "law & disorder" practice, if you will.

So it goes in "Planman," a thinking-man's thriller that's driven by Coltrane's superlative work. Actually, all of the performances here are top-notch, but Coltrane takes things to a different level. He presents for us a vivid illustration of a man shackled to his own self-loathing, who is both repelled by and irresistibly attracted to the dark side of his nature. He seems to instinctively understand that following through on his criminal conduct will ultimately catch up to him, but Lennox can't help himself, finding that feeling shame is better than feeling nothing at all. And as loathsome a character as this guy is, he's equally fascinating -- and well worth spending two hours with on a cold Sunday night.

THE PLANMAN
BBC America
Ideal World Prods. and ITVI
Credits:
Executive producers: Angus Lamont, Robbie Coltrane
Producer: Mervyn Gill-Dougherty
Line producer: Alison Steele
Teleplay: Stuart Hepbum
Director: John Strickland
Director of photography: Ivan Strasburg
Costume designer: Delphine Roche Gordon
Editor: Patrick Moore
Sound: Ken Campbell
Casting: Susie Bruffin
Cast:
Jack Lennox: Robbie Coltrane
Gail Forrester: Celia Imrie
Brian Richards: Neil Dudgeon
Jim Townsend: Vincent Regan
Crawford Hennessy-Boyd: John McGlynn
Lord Belford: Graham Crowden
Louise Beattie: Deirdre McIntyre
Mrs. Townsend: Martha Leishman
John Baresci: Matthew Zajac
Alvin Thorsen: Felix Dexter
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