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3.9 out of 5 stars
Top of the Lake
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73 of 75 people found the following review helpful
The enigmatic seven-part miniseries "Top of the Lake" is a slow burn mystery that takes its time to unravel. But, in many ways, this is more than just a traditional crime drama. The location becomes a significant (if not the most significant) character in a study of a community in isolation. Gorgeous New Zealand locales serve as the exotic backdrop to a land defined by those who inhabit it. It's not an easy place to escape as our heroine (Elizabeth Moss) discovers. As a detective returning to her home town, Moss is undeniably haunted by her past and wanting some form of closure. When an underage girl becomes pregnant, Moss is put on the case and she starts to work out her own demons as well. Can she save both the girl and herself? Beauty and tranquility are juxtaposed with crime and desperation. In the hands of Oscar winner Jane Campion (The Piano), "Top of the Lake" plays to some of the same themes as AMC's recent "The Killing" with a dash of "Twin Peaks" thrown in. It's a dark, brooding, and oftentimes eccentric look at a community that exists by its own rules.

The jumping off point in this miniseries is, indeed, the discovery of a pregnant twelve year old. Moss, a specialist in these types of child endangerment cases, is close by attending to her sick mother. She agrees to interview the girl, and forms a close bond. When the girl disappears soon after, Moss can't seem to relinquish the case even though her family commitments require her elsewhere. Her obsession leads her to confront the town that she left behind, the place that almost destroyed her. The girl's family are an unsavory bunch. The patriarch (a great Peter Mullan) is the local crime boss and drug lord and he and his sons become quick suspects. Moss even has a past with one of the boys (Thomas M Wright). Further complicating matters is a woman's commune with an eccentric leader (Holly Hunter), a barkeep with a past, a couple of unexplained deaths, and an Inspector (David Wenham) whose motives may be questionable. Through the investigation, Moss comes face to face with a past that may be too difficult to acknowledge.

I know that some may think that "Top of the Lake" is overlong. And if all you are looking for is a concise answer to the central mystery, perhaps this will be a bit slow and/or methodical for you. But I really liked the texture of the piece. The investigation is not necessarily linear, everyone that Moss encounters isn't automatically tied to the girl's disappearance. You get a real sense of place, as I said, everything is interwoven in the overlapping story threads. Campion has assembled a terrific cast as well. Moss (Mad Men) steps into a true leading role and displays a great mix of toughness and vulnerability. Mullan is magnetic as well, a powder keg just waiting to explode. Hunter is ethereal and oftentimes unnerving, it's very hard to describe her character. But I really liked just about everyone in this crazy little town. Heck, even Lucy Lawless pops up unexpectedly for scene or two.

"Top of the Lake" isn't a fast action adventure. It unfolds at its own pace, it both requires patience and rewards it. In the end, I really enjoyed this miniseries. I'm not sure that the final revelations adequately explained everything, there were still a number of issues that I felt could use further exposition. But this is still worthy of reaching an adult audience looking for something a bit darker and different than conventional television fare. KGHarris, 4/13.
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43 of 48 people found the following review helpful
on June 7, 2013
*** spoiler alert ***

Top of the Lake is a unique and captivating mini-series that offers great writing, acting and direction, and a fantastic setting. At first glance a crime drama, it defies genre conventions, but the tip of the hat to the horror genre in the opening sequence and music is not to be ignored.

Make no mistake; Top of the Lake is about New Zealand. Any local will tell you that New Zealand is Paradise; Top of the Lake tells us about the dark side of that paradise. Yes, there is an Appalachian (for example) version of this story - but this is a distinctly New Zealand story.

Top of the Lake is a portrayal of New Zealand culture and its problems as few other films or series have done. "Once Were Warriors" is a notable exception, and it is no coincidence that that film also deals with issues of misogyny, violence, rape, teen suicide, child abuse and child molestation.

There is a lot of feminism in Top of the Lake, but it is New Zealand culture that is indicted, and men and women are both guilty. There are many victims in Top of the Lake, but there are few innocents. Women seem to limit their sins to denying, defending and otherwise enabling the behavior of men, and the dark side of the culture in general, but Top of the Lake wants us to question whether they are any less guilty. We probably see this most clearly in Campion's main character Robin Griffin, played by Elizabeth Moss.

There are many good reasons to like Robin, and to identify with her. But the viewer suspects Al Parker (David Wenham) early on, and grows uncomfortable as Robin fails to follow up on some fairly clear warning signs, especially when she blacks out and wakes up in his bed and clothes, but fails to have a rape kit done, or a blood test, or to do anything more than give Al a light questioning. She has suspicions, but she fails to follow through on them. It begins to resemble the denial and willful blindness that is so much a part of the local culture, and a strong theme of the series.

Robin continues to get drunk in bars filled with overtly misogynist men, including one who actually raped her as a teenager. She rekindles an old relationship with an old flame, Johnno (Thomas M. Wright) in a no-means-yes moment in a pub toilet. This old flame had abandoned her at a high school dance just before she was raped by four drunk local men. He comes clean about being there, but refuses to deny planning it with them ahead of time. She continues seeing him.

When the local drug lord, Matt Mitchum (Peter Mullan), the most obvious villain of the series, reveals to her that he is her father, and that her lover is therefore her half-brother, we feel her horror as she realizes that many of the local demons are inside of her as well, and have been all along (Al has DNA testing done, and reports that Johnno is not Matt's son. However he also reports that Tui's baby is Matt's, almost certainly a lie. We never know for sure).

As ugly as this all might sound, I continue to have a lot of sympathy and patience for Robin, as do most viewers I think. Credit this to the acting of Elizabeth Moss, but of course Campion knows that it is important that the audience care about even such a deeply flawed character.

Campion may have less patience for Robin than we do. GJ, the reluctant "guru" of Paradise, played by Holly Hunter, is inspired by the late Indian philosopher U.G. Krishnamurti, a friend of Campion's. GJ has no more patience for Robin than for any of the "crazy bitches" living at Paradise. Robin is apparently the "crazy bitch" that broke the camel's back, sending GJ off to Reykjavik, about as far from New Zealand as a person can get.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
The enigmatic seven-part miniseries "Top of the Lake" is a slow burn mystery that takes its time to unravel. But, in many ways, this is more than just a traditional crime drama. The location becomes a significant (if not the most significant) character in a study of a community in isolation. Gorgeous New Zealand locales serve as the exotic backdrop to a land defined by those who inhabit it. It's not an easy place to escape as our heroine (Elizabeth Moss) discovers. As a detective returning to her home town, Moss is undeniably haunted by her past and wanting some form of closure. When an underage girl becomes pregnant, Moss is put on the case and she starts to work out her own demons as well. Can she save both the girl and herself? Beauty and tranquility are juxtaposed with crime and desperation. In the hands of Oscar winner Jane Campion (The Piano), "Top of the Lake" plays to some of the same themes as AMC's recent "The Killing" with a dash of "Twin Peaks" thrown in. It's a dark, brooding, and oftentimes eccentric look at a community that exists by its own rules.

The jumping off point in this miniseries is, indeed, the discovery of a pregnant twelve year old. Moss, a specialist in these types of child endangerment cases, is close by attending to her sick mother. She agrees to interview the girl, and forms a close bond. When the girl disappears soon after, Moss can't seem to relinquish the case even though her family commitments require her elsewhere. Her obsession leads her to confront the town that she left behind, the place that almost destroyed her. The girl's family are an unsavory bunch. The patriarch (a great Peter Mullan) is the local crime boss and drug lord and he and his sons become quick suspects. Moss even has a past with one of the boys (Thomas M Wright). Further complicating matters is a woman's commune with an eccentric leader (Holly Hunter), a barkeep with a past, a couple of unexplained deaths, and an Inspector (David Wenham) whose motives may be questionable. Through the investigation, Moss comes face to face with a past that may be too difficult to acknowledge.

I know that some may think that "Top of the Lake" is overlong. And if all you are looking for is a concise answer to the central mystery, perhaps this will be a bit slow and/or methodical for you. But I really liked the texture of the piece. The investigation is not necessarily linear, everyone that Moss encounters isn't automatically tied to the girl's disappearance. You get a real sense of place, as I said, everything is interwoven in the overlapping story threads. Campion has assembled a terrific cast as well. Moss (Mad Men) steps into a true leading role and displays a great mix of toughness and vulnerability. Mullan is magnetic as well, a powder keg just waiting to explode. Hunter is ethereal and oftentimes unnerving, it's very hard to describe her character. But I really liked just about everyone in this crazy little town. Heck, even Lucy Lawless pops up unexpectedly for scene or two.

"Top of the Lake" isn't a fast action adventure. It unfolds at its own pace, it both requires patience and rewards it. In the end, I really enjoyed this miniseries. I'm not sure that the final revelations adequately explained everything, there were still a number of issues that I felt could use further exposition. But this is still worthy of reaching an adult audience looking for something a bit darker and different than conventional television fare. KGHarris, 4/13.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Welcome to Top of the Lake. On your right, we have a conspicuously beautiful New Zealand landscape, all foggy mountains, pine forests, misty lakes. Straight ahead is Paradise. Literally. On your left, however, nothing is as it seems. Everyone harbors a secret, some inner darkness, some seed of madness or corruption or evil. Even the most innocent are caught up in whatever malevolence permeates the freezing waters and the chill air at Top of the Lake.

This is David Lynch on steriods. The story covers 9 of the 7 deadly sins, every major vice is present and accounted for, nobody is who you think they are and just when you think you have someone pegged, you don't. The 7 episode mystery is as compelling a piece of television as I have ever encountered. .

Edgy and disorienting, the plot centers around the pregnancy and disappearance of 12-year old Tui Michum. Australian police detective Robin Griffin (played by "Mad Men's" Elisabeth Moss) returns to her hometown in New Zealand to spend time with her dying mother. A specialist in crimes against children, Griffin is asked to investigate the case by her friend and former mentor, the the local top cop affably played by David Wenham. Holly Hunter plays a small but key role as a genuinely wise and down to earth guru to a bunch of women who end up at the Lake because they pretty much have no place else left to go. The entire cast is excellent, particularly Jacquine Joe as Tui, and Peter Mullan as Tui's father, Mack, by turns charming, vicious, monsterous and frequently all too human.

Where is Tui and who fathered her baby? That's just the beginning. The lake harbors many secrets and a couple of red herrings. There is intense drama, romance, real sadness, madness, some humor and lots of good writing...and the curveballs keep coming at you. During the last fifteen minutes of episode 7, it's all you can do not to duck. "Top of the Lake," a co-production of the Sundance Channel,BBC Two and UKTV in Australia and New Zealand was directed by Jane Campion (Oscar nominee for "The Piano" and is the first TV series ever to screen at the Sundance Film Festival. A lot of good television is coming out of Australia and New Zealand. This certainly is among the best
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on November 4, 2013
I watched this start to finish NONSTOP.

I wasn't expecting a miniseries to be one of the most original works of cinematic art I'd seen, but it was.

There is nothing cliche about this amazing film.

That's what it is - one very long film chopped into 7 parts for TV but one sweeping dramatic arc nonetheless.

It's like nothing else out there in the ways that count. Because watching it changes you, and that is the mark of all great art. If it doesn't change you it's just entertainment. It's not the story, or the character, or the situation...it's the WAY they are all revealed, which in turn reveals the director's eye and intent, which is what changes us when we watch it. Deeper things are said that cannot be explicitly stated as in any true work of art. Images reverberate and everything is skillfully, masterfully executed.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on January 19, 2014
Read the one and two star reviews--they cover my complaints better than I can. It's my bad I stuck with this after it went sour, which was about episode two. I had just come from watching Broadchurch, a brilliant series, and this seemed to hold similar promise. Instead it devolved into something just short of absurdity. If I taught film I'd use this to show how a good premise can go terribly wrong. The two stars are for location.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
I started watching 'Top of the Lake' because I am a fan of Elizabeth Moss. Her role in this film is terrific, in fact it s so good, she should be nominated for an Emmy. From the first confusing episode to the last, I was hooked! This is one of the better mini-series I have seen.

'Top of the Lake ' is a seven-hour miniseries from filmmaker Jane Campion. Elisabeth Moss is a troubled Sydney cop investigating the disappearance of a pregnant 12-year-old in her small New Zealand hometown. This is a crime series concerned with heartbreak. Moss's detective Robin Griffin is investigating the disappearance of Tui. Her father is Matt Mitcham, played by Peter Mullan, a Scotsman introduced as a villain. He is a drug taker, maker and rounder and owns the town.

There's a lake where the mountains should be, and green, green grass. Everything is topsy-turvy: An unborn baby is called a "time bomb," a gentle elder-care companion puts his fist through a wall. And around the investigation is a group of scarred women camped out on land called Paradise. Holly Hunter's GJ, gives advice, sips soup and drops truth bombs.

This is a police procedural like no other. The only ethical investigator, it seems is Elizabeth Moss's character. All s not what it seems, and the finale will leave you surprised.

Highly Recommended. prisrob 05-27-13
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on August 22, 2013
so good. subtle, moody, quiet. Has that crooked insight David Lynch films have without the quirky distractions. Beautifully done. Season 2 please!!!
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on June 8, 2013
And I'm not talking Jane Campion, the writer and co-director, and the creator of The Piano, for which Holly Hunter won the Oscar. Holly is back in a far different guise here, but a fascinating character, as are so many in this seven-part, strange mystery. Campion tends to deal with sexual issues with an iconoclastic view. Things are a little more normal here, but still outre.

But the Jane I'm talking about is Jane Tennyson, the riveting detective in Britain's Prime Suspect series. I think the Elisabeth Moss detective could eventually be trotted out again in another case. That might not be a good idea, as that might threaten the relationship that develops in this series, a gorgeous romance. But for my money, the character is one of the first interesting female detectives in a long time. Apparently, no one seems to know how to do them like those from the British empire.

Interestingly, Moss is an American; I can't tell if she has any ties to New Zealand. Yet she seems to have a flawless accent, or, that is, she delivers her take on it flawlessly; her lines are not self conscious, they just flow from whatever this accent is that she has developed. It would be interesting to know how many of the other actors don't have natural New Zealand accents, or some history with them ... a quick trip to IMDB could solve that, of course, but these days, it seems you don't have to be British or Australian, or American, or even a native speaker of English, to work all over the globe. Moss, the secretary-turned-copywriter in Madmen with the improbable hairdo, really gets to let her hair down here. She has something of an interesting curriculum vitae if you view a profile but personalities aside she seems to be quite an actress.

I basically loved the series ... and did not find the stuff about the women finding solace on drug lord Matt's erstwhile land jarring. It was funny, but maybe some comic relief was needed. It also pretty much all hung together, some parts coming back on each other with beautiful irony. I think if you are a Prime Suspect/Law & Order fan, you'll like this one.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on April 18, 2015
To begin with, this is six hours of viewing, one long and slow story that unravels a bit like a dry sponge with not quite enough water. And did I mention the word "slow?" And what happens at the end of six hours is...well, very little. Unlike those Hollywood endings that seem to just wrap things up, this story just sort of ends, leaving so many unanswered questions that you wonder if you missed something or if you're simply watching too much video stuff since six hours just got wasted. Sure, read the other reviews and be baffled. I certainly read the reviews on the cover but now find what they were really describing. "Stunning" said New York Magazine (but they meant the scenery, not the film), and "A Triumph" said the Philadelphia Inquirer (they likely meant the motorcycle scene when they spotted a Triumph in the group). Yes, this is a mystery, an isolated drug ring and a missing 12-year old girl, and basically a police force that seems little concerned. So the missing girl's father hires a bunch of bikers and hunters from this tiny isolated town to look for the girl (the police don't care), they find her, and then they're all gone (and so is the girl)...huh? A bunch of women arrive to play rich-ladies meditation getaway and then, they're all gone...huh? The main characters all have questions about who their real father is and...they never find out. Huh? Even the terrific scenery of New Zealand is never fully captured, the film crew limited to the hills outside of Queenstown (if you've ever been there, you know that even walking around the area gives you more beautiful scenery). So what went wrong? Holly Hunter plays a semi-useless character with disheveled hair and looking quite haggard. And there's more than enough sexual tossing about that has (in the end) little to do with the story. And then, it's over. SIX HOURS you've wasted. And despite the writing credits of Jane Campion, you feel as if a talented 2-hour script was turned in and the producers said, "we need four more hours here," and thus all the added and unnecessary filler. Normally, the BBC does a much better series release but not this time. Better to spend your six hours watching The Street, STUNNING acting, A TRIUMPH of writing, and you won't feel that you've been watching way too much video at the end.
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