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TV Review: Waco

TV Waco
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PLOT: This is the story of the violent standoff in 1993 between cult leader David Koresh and his followers, against the FBI and ATF in Waco, Texas.

REVIEW: Taking a real life tragic event and bringing it to the small screen can be tricky. How do you respectfully, and accurately, tell the story? The new series from Paramount Network, Waco, is a great example of simplifying such a historic and complicated time in our past. This six-episode series, created by Drew and John Erick Dowdle, explores the violent standoff that took place in the spring of 1993 between David Koresh’s Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas and the ATF and FBI. One of the most impressive components of the series is the casting of Koresh himself. Taylor Kitsch stars as the charismatic leader, and the actor proves to be intensely mesmerizing. Also featuring Michael Shannon, Melissa Benoist, Rory Culkin and John Leguizamo, this is an engrossing watch whether you are old enough to remember the continuous television coverage or not.

The first episode introduces us to Koresh. David is a warm, and seemingly caring, religious figure. He plays guitar with a band, gives support to the ones he calls family that live on his compound, and he is welcoming to strangers in need of a home. Yet Koresh sees himself as a modern day messiah with strange rules his followers are required to live by - this includes no sexual relations even if you are married to one of the other members. To him and his followers, he is a representation of Jesus Christ and the teachings of the gospel. When the FBI and the ATF suspect misdeeds at his residence, they send in ATF agent Robert Rodriguez to find out how many guns they are stockpiling. As well, the agent finds himself getting closer to the mysterious leader and those that stand by his side. As Koresh realizes he is being watched by the government, he prepares to fight as his compound is surrounded. This leads to a violent showdown between the Branch Davidian and the federal agents closing in.

waco taylor kitsch melissa benoist john erick dowdle drew dowdle paramount network michael shannon john leguizamo

The most fascinating thing about Waco is Koresh himself. It would have been very easy to portray the controversial figure as a larger than life villain and ham it up. Thankfully, Kitsch gives us a very honest portrayal of the man. It is such a powerful take that you begin to see him as Koresh. The actor has continued to take chances in his career, and this is his most impressive work to date. This could’ve easily been a misstep had they cast the wrong name, yet Kitsch disappears effortlessly into the role. He even develops such a strong connection with his co-stars, that you will fully believe in his Koresh. And dare I say, you may even sympathize with him at times. It’s a remarkable portrait of a man that most of us only really knew of from the news coverage. 

Kitsch is front and center but he is ably supported by an incredible cast. Supergirl’s Melissa Benoist plays Koresh’s wife Rachel as a fiercely loyal woman willing to share her husband with others, yet she doesn’t play her as a victim. The always reliable Michael Shannon takes on the good guy role of hostage negotiator Gary Noesner, and per usual, he is terrific here. One of Michael’s MIDNIGHT SPECIAL co-stars, Paul Sparks - who continues to impress in smaller roles - takes on the opposite side of the law in Waco and he shares a very layered relationship with Andrea Riseborough who plays his wife Judy. As Steve Schneider, one of Koresh’s right hand men, he and Riseborough both create an appealing couple who have put themselves in a very difficult position underneath Koresh rules. Additionally, Demore Barnes and Rory Culkin are quite good as followers of Koresh.

waco taylor kitsch melissa benoist michael shannon john leguizamo paramount network david koresh

Unlike a few similar themed true crime tales, the series directors - which include John Erick Dowdle and Dennie Gordon - take a more traditional approach. Some may see this as by-the-numbers, yet for this viewer is was an effective way to tell this story. For review purposes, we were only sent the first three episodes, but the best thing I can say about Waco is that I plan on re-watching once it airs - beginning tonight. Interestingly, the series isn’t quick to make David Koresh a villain. While he certainly has his moments, they embrace the confusion of the horrific situation where women and children were put in harms way. To put it mildly, this massacre was a confused mess with the ATF, the FBI and Koresh’s armed and devoted followers. By telling this story they way they have, you are allowed to sympathize with nearly every character involved.

Waco is a powerful drama that brings the viewer inside this terrible time in history. In many ways, this story is just as relevant today. The six-part event smartly explores both sides and we see the mistakes made by the government agencies, as well as the Branch Dividians. Yet much of it works as well as it does because of Taylor Kitsch and his remarkable portrayal. The actor gives life to this complicated figure, as well, he almost makes it easy to see why many around him were convinced to join in his crusade. While I couldn’t tell you just how accurate the series is - it’s a safe bet there is a bit of creative licensing - it was fascinating to revisit this travesty. The six-part series begins tonight on the Paramount Network, and it is very much worth a watch.

Source: JoBlo.com

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