‘A Man in Full’ Review – Netflix’s Answer to Succession Is Another Morally Bankrupt Delight

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: May 2, 2024 (Last updated: 4 weeks ago)
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A Man in Full. Jeff Daniels as Charlie Croker in episode 101 of A Man in Full. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2024
3.5

Summary

It doesn’t all work, either individually or together, but A Man in Full is a very entertaining entry into the morally unscrupulous corporate drama sub-genre, and Jeff Daniels is worth the time on his own.

Succession made moral bankruptcy cool, and it was only a matter of time before streaming platforms threw their hat in the bleakly comic corporate drama ring. Netflix’s effort is A Man in Full, which isn’t just about moral bankruptcy but the actual financial kind too, and despite not being a patch on HBO’s mega-hit is nonetheless an extremely entertaining time – until it goes wildly off the rails at the end.

But no spoilers here, of course. And don’t worry – even if you’ve read Tom Wolfe’s celebrated 1998 New York Times bestseller, on which this limited series is based, that only gives you a sense of things. The new directions this adaptation takes are quite something, but I’ll leave you to discover them on your own.

Plot-wise, meet Charlie Croker, a former Georgia Tech football hero turned Trumpian real estate tycoon who is played by Jeff Daniels and his finest Georgia accent. At the start of the series, Croker is told by his bank that he’s in debt to the tune of almost a billion dollars, which is understandable since he has spent other people’s fortunes on private jets, sprawling Atlanta skyscrapers, and a quail plantation.

The bank, represented primarily by a meek loan officer named Raymond Peepgrass (Tom Pelphrey), wants Croker’s head on a spike. Croker, meanwhile, is too worried about his other health issues – including a hand spasm and a dodgy knee – to give his head a second thought. It’s in the clouds anyway, being carried around by his jet as he tries (and fails) to keep the wolves from the door.

But there’s a secondary story bolted onto this main thread which involves Croker’s hotshot lawyer, Roger White (Aml Ameen), taking on the case of Croker’s assistant’s husband Conrad (Jon Michael Hill), who assaults a police officer in self-defense and has the book thrown at him by a judge with a point to prove. Conrad’s legal woes intermingle with Croker’s financial woes now and again, but they’re mostly kept separate.

I’m not sure how well things mix. Everything involving Croker is big and ridiculous, a man being led by his ego into one embarrassing catastrophe after another (there’s a particularly ridiculous stretch involving Croker trying to schmooze a left-leaning businessman by treating him to a getaway at his plantation.) But everything about Conrad’s story is searingly topical and very serious. Both get payoffs, but while one is thoughtful and poignant, the other is just nuts.

A Man in Full Review - Netflix's Adaptation Doesn't All Work

A Man in Full. Jon Michael Hill as Conrad in episode 105 of A Man in Full. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2024

But showrunner David E. Kelley and star Jeff Daniels are a match made in heaven all the same. The performance, from the accent to the mannerisms, is larger than life, but the writing is sharper than it’ll be given credit for. There are very funny moments but also some quieter, more introspective ones, and Daniels plays the part with such relish that it’s impossible not to be swept along.

He’s aided by an exceptional supporting cast, where even a star like Lucy Liu just floats in and out with barely anything to do but makes the most of every second she’s on-screen. Croker’s ex-wife Martha is played by Diane Lane, and Eline Powell delivers one of the most understatedly funny performances of the year.

A Man in Full will be divisive though, of that there’s no question. It takes some very broad swings that some will perceive as personal attacks – the fanbase of a certain presidential candidate will likely be incensed by it – and it ends up in territory that is so ridiculous that it threatens to grossly undermine the hard work done elsewhere.

But it’s also equally true that the underlying story is as relevant today – if not more so – than it was when it was published, and still absolutely holds up. Some of the updates – which will be another point of contention, one suspects – are smart and necessary and add more contemporary thought to the original narrative.

I’d be remiss not to recommend this, then, even if the recommendation must necessarily come with a few caveats. But seeing some of the things Jeff Daniels gets up to in this is more than worth the time spent on six breezy episodes. If nothing else, A Man in Full has the good sense to get out of its own way, which is a trait Charlie Croker could probably stand to learn.

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