Review

Amazon's 'Hand of God' features miraculous acting, but little else

Mary McNamara
Contact ReporterLos Angeles Times Television Critic

If Amazon's new vigilante drama "Hand of God" were a better show, Garret Dillahunt might be up for an Emmy this time next year.

His astonishingly delicate and nuanced performance as KD, an answer-seeking ex-con hired to do the murderous dirty work of corrupt Judge Pernell Harris (Ron Perlman), is the best thing on screen — at least early in the series. (There are 10 episodes, which become available on the streaming service Friday; I saw four.) Unfortunately, it is not enough to constitute true salvation.

Perlman is the headliner here, along with director Marc Forster, known for feature films like "Monster's Ball" and "World War Z," who is making his television debut. While both men are also capable of delicacy and nuance, the story by Ben Watkins is not.

The weight and nature of God's hand is, of course, open to interpretation. As a symbol for this show, think large rubber mallet. From the moment we meet Perlman's Pernell, naked and howling in a fountain, Watkins is long on symbolism, short on subtlety.

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Harris, we discover almost immediately, has some reason to howl. His son PJ is in a vegetative state after a suicide attempt prompted by the vicious rape of his wife Jocelyn (Alona Tal), which he, PJ, was forced to watch.

This is an odd and male-centric way to describe the aftermath of a woman's rape, but this is Pernell's story, not Jocelyn's. Jocelyn, who wants to take her husband off life support, is just one more thing Pernell must deal with, along with his own wife, Crystal (Dana Delany); neither are as important to him, or the story, as his mind-altering grief. Grief that has turned, with "God's" help, into a burning desire for vengeance.

Directed by his comatose son to find those responsible and make them pay, Pernell enlists the aid of KD.

"Hand of God's" insistence that we focus on how rape has unhinged the victim's male family members is tough enough on the viewer, and the men involved make it even tougher. This is not "Deathwish"-by-proxy; Pernell is no nice, normal guy devolving into violence.

His corrupt power within the L.A.-adjacent community is established in a few crude and wearily predictable strokes: He has a prostitute mistress! He is involved in land-grab dealing with the mayor! (Who is played by "The Wire's" Andre Royo!)

For a few minutes, Pernell's journey seems to be heading toward revelation if not redemption. As he falls into the clutches of a con-man preacher (Julian Morris) and begins to hallucinate, surely he, and we, will realize that there are things no man can control.

Perhaps, but not before "Hand of God" "explores" the already well-mapped limitations and hypocrisy of concepts such as faith and justice while attempting to mess with our heads. Just when you think Pernell is plain ol' nuts, it seems like maybe he isn't.

Maybe the messages he believes he is receiving do make sense. But who is sending them? PJ? God? Pernell's subconscious? Crystal and Jocelyn, in an attempt to get him committed? The crazy future humans from "Wandering Pines"?

Amazon is currently in the "spare no expense" stage of original-content production, and it shows everywhere but in the story. Perlman is a strong and deceptively supple performer, but he isn't a miracle worker. Even bad crazy guys need a gleam of humanity, and Pernell has none. Delaney is mostly sidelined, as are Royo and Tal; Morris' sleazy pastor is so trite he has a gorgeous girlfriend he pimps out for the Lord.

That leaves only KD, a genuine sociopath and the only character who genuinely seeks transformation. Dillahunt's ability to show this, to swing KD from brutal violence to soul-searching, is miraculous. It just isn't enough.

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'Hand of God'

Where: Amazon Prime

When: Anytime, starting Friday

Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17)

mary.mcnamara@latimes.com

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