The Cinematography of Ozark
Currently on its third season, Netflix’s Ozark continues the path of anti-heroes on television in a stylised and cinematic fashion. It stars Jason Bateman, who occasionally directs, as a financial advisor caught in a soured money-laundering scheme that mixes him with the Mexican cartel. He relocates with his wife, played by the underrated Laura Linney, and kids, to the poignantly picturesque Ozarks which add a cool wash of atmosphere.
Ozark has often been unfairly compared to Breaking Bad, and although popular with audiences, has rarely been favoured by critics. Its visual approach is one of the more cinematic and thoughtfully composed of shows roaming around the TV-sphere. There is a rich evocation of place in every scene.
At first glance, there is a strong blue filter and the scenes are quite literally, dark. This look has polarised viewers. Bateman and the shows’ cinematographers wanted a unique look and cited David Fincher’s works as inspiration. I find myself comparing the look to House of Cards.
Pepe Avila del Pino, who photographed the pilot, built this cinematic style, and throughout the show’s history, more cinematographers have taken his place. They include Ben Kutchins, who has primarily shot in urban settings. He wanted to invoke memories of his time growing up in the country and clung to the idea of mimicking an old Fuji film set in the grittiest way possible.
This style of crafting a still frame, with attention to moulding the blocking of characters, has become sort a trend, especially with Netflix shows that handle the 2:1 ratio. We’ve also seen it in Mr. Robot. It effectively works here.
Man versus system is a theme that runs throughout as the Byrde family are hounded by obstacles. Overbearing and hostile images of wiring, small spaces and religious symbols are abound.
Kutchins used darkness, deliberately underexposing the camera settings, to convey the scene’s emotional factor. After all, this family finds themselves fled and far from their first home, where secrets and lies are rampant and where anyone can spy, unseen, in the neighbouring bushland.
Ben Kutchins received an Emmy nomination for his work on season’s one finale, "The Toll".