Mosaic review: Your new murder mystery obsession is here, and Sharon Stone’s the dead body
Cast - Sharon Stone, Garrett Hedlund, Frederick Weller, Jennifer Ferrin
Rating - 4/5
In 2010, a video game called Heavy Rain drastically altered the course of the gaming industry. For the first time — at least at this scale — a video game had come close to finding the Holy Grail, which the gaming community had always meant creating an interactive experience that transports you, the player, inside a movie and gives you the freedom to chart your own destiny.
Heavy Rain is a murder mystery, a noir thriller about four individuals involved in some way or another in a series of murders perpetrated by a person known as the Origami killer. Through various course-altering choices — each depending on the person playing the game — Heavy Rain could end in multiple different ways, with at least one, or every character’s fate hanging in the balance as they track down the identity of the Origami killer. For the first time, a player’s choices had consequences. For the first time, a decision you made three levels ago could save someone’s life at the end.
Without realizing it, Heavy Rain brought virtual reality into the mainstream, and injected into an art form the morality that had long been missing from it.
Steven Soderbergh’s Mosaic is in many ways the TV equivalent of Heavy Rain. It might perhaps be the first real attempt at bringing interactive scripted entertainment to everyone’s phones. Like Heavy Rain, Mosaic too is a murder mystery, and before premiering as a six-episode miniseries on HBO, it was launched as an app.
Here’s the set-up: Acclaimed children’s author Olivia Lake (Sharon Stone in her best role in years) is murdered at her lavish Utah mansion on New Years’ eve, and her lover, Eric, is the prime suspect. He had a loud argument with Olivia hours before she was reported missing — note, no body was found — and was subsequently arrested, tried, found guilty, and imprisoned, despite claiming innocence all the while.
Four years later, his estranged sister takes it upon herself to exonerate him of the crime. With the detective who handled the case, she traces it all down to a man named Joel, who at the time of Olivia’s murder had been doing odd jobs around her house, and had a public falling out with her the evening of her death.
Were you to experience the story in the app, you’d be able to view the events leading up to and after the murder from the perspectives of both Eric and Joel, with bonus case material available as reference and the ability to choose whose point-of-view you want to watch the mystery unravel. This is, all things considered, a pretty neat idea. As screenwriter Ed Solomon described it, “Every villain is the hero of their own story.”
The miniseries format however — and that’s primarily what we’ll be talking about, because frankly, the app experience sounds exhausting — is a more straightforward murder mystery. At least as straightforward a show directed by the singular Steven Soderbergh could possibly be.
Speaking of Soderbergh, in what has to be the greatest practical joke in modern movie history — perhaps even greater than Joaquin Phoenix fooling everyone into believing he’d quit acting in favour of a career in rap music — the director successfully managed to convince the world that he had, in fact, retired.
However, pay attention to what he did during his ‘retirement’. He directed (and shot) every episode of his fantastic show The Knick; he executive-produced two seasons each of The Girlfriend Experience and Red Oaks and one season of Godless; and in his spare time, he re-edited Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey just for fun. In 2017 he returned to feature filmmaking with Logan Lucky, and this year, after shooting, editing and directing every episode of Mosaic, he will produce Ocean’s 8 and release his new movie, Unsane, shot entirely on an iPhone.
Quite the retirement, huh?
It’s fitting then, that this show be spearheaded by as non-conformist a filmmaker as Soderbergh. In Mosaic, he uses his signature digital camera — what once upon a time used to be seen a rebellious act in the industry — and erases all excess from the story. He strips it down to the bare essentials — the premise, the characters, the locations, and the clues — and directs in the most matter-of-fact manner, removed of all his flamboyant camerawork.
The end result is a gripping tale of murder that is more concerned with the dynamics of the genre than with exploring human depth. Mosaic taps into our natural fascination with crime and criminals, and creates a unique TV experience that could perhaps open a new chapter in the medium’s future. Binge away.
Watch the Mosaic trailer here