Tom Holland and Amanda Seyfried headline this twisty drama that keeps you guessing every single episode.
Plot: Danny Sullivan is a man who is arrested following his involvement in a shooting in New York City in 1979. A captivating thriller told through a series of interviews with curious interrogator Rya Goodwin, Danny’s life story unfolds, revealing elements of the mysterious past that shaped him, and the twists and turns that will lead him to a life-altering revelation.
Review: Every person is the sum of their life experiences. That can lead some people to lead good, fulfilling lives while others succumb to the broken elements of their past to make decisions that can alter the course of their future. In the case of Danny Sullivan, he is caught in the act of a crime and must pay the price, which uncovers elements from his life that are revealed through the course of The Crowded Room. With a leading turn from Tom Holland that cements him as one of the best young actors working today alongside solid performances from Amanda Seyfried, Emmy Rossum, Christopher Abbott, Sasha Lane, Emma Laird, Jason Isaacs, and more, The Crowded Room is an emotionally gut-wrenching series that has countless twists and turns as it takes its audience on a rollercoaster of a mystery.
Created by Akiva Goldsman, writer of A Beautiful Mind and Cinderella Man on one end of his resume with Batman & Robin, The Dark Tower, and Transformers: The Last Knight on the other, The Crowded Room is a difficult series to review. I can talk about the performances, the talented cast, and the emotional reaction I had to watch the series. Still, there is so much at the story’s core that I will not divulge, or it would ruin the experience of anyone checking the series out. I can tell you that Goldsman conceived of this series after drawing inspiration from the non-fiction novel (yes, that is a real thing) titled The Minds of Billy Milligan by Daniel Keyes. If you want to search for that book, you will understand what you have in store with The Crowded Room. Based on the trailer alone, I can say that I suspected the truth about this series, and I am sure I am not the only one. In either case, whether you know the truth about this story or go in fresh, it does not take away from the quality of this series.
The story opens with Danny (Tom Holland) engaged in a plot involving a gun and a shooting in New York City. Egged on by Ariana (Sasha Lane), we learn about a group of close friends who make up Danny’s makeshift family after leaving home and his mother, Candy (Emmy Rossum), and stepfather Marlin (Will Chase). Arrested, Danny begins meeting with Rya Goodwin (Amanda Seyfried), who wants to uncover how Danny got involved with the murder plot, of which he is the only one in custody. As the case goes to trial, Danny is supported by Rya and his lawyer Stan Camisa (Christopher Abbott). Rya and Stan meet with Danny regularly and investigate how he fell in with a group that includes Yitzak Safdie (Lior Raz) and Jack Lamb (Jason Isaacs) as they try to exonerate Danny from the charges against him.
The ten-episode series evokes the late 1970s in the fashion and style of the time. With Jason Isaacs dressed like a surrogate James Bond and Tom Holland’s messy mop of hair, the dialogue-heavy focus of The Crowded Room affords each of the actors a lot of dramatic material to work with. Amanda Seyfried has one of the most restrained roles here, while Christopher Abbott gets to stretch himself a bit more as a veteran suffering from PTSD in addition to being an attorney. Emmy Rossum, whose age became news when she first joined the project as she is only ten years older than Tom Holland, but the talented actress evokes a presence far beyond her years as Candy Sullivan. Emma Laird is excellent as Isabel, but no one matches Tom Holland in this series. Cherry, Holland’s last AppleTV+ project, was designed to showcase the actor’s range, but he is stounding in this series. Again, I cannot spoil anything about the nature of this series, but Holland gives a performance that hits every emotion you can ask of an actor and then some. It is quite something to see.
Ultimately, what Akiva Goldsman and his writing team strove for with The Crowded Room was not to ape the cliches or formulas of similar stories told over the years. When the core themes of this series begin to come through after a few episodes, Goldsman cannot help but venture down some familiar paths, but the team avoids miring this series in melodrama for the sake of melodrama. This is a hard series to watch because of the weight of the subject matter, but The Crowded Room manages to keep hope alive. Much of that is due to the series’ production design and the filmmakers’ direction, including directors Kornél Mundruczó, Mona Fastvold, Brady Corbet, and Alan Taylor. They all lend the series a grounded and realistic eye that does not falter in even the hardest-to-watch scenes. They also utilize some triumphant and inspirational elements as the story progresses. It also helps that there is a nicely curated soundtrack of songs alongside the score by Travis Gureckis.
The mystery of The Crowded Room drew me to the story, but the acting kept me watching for the entire series run. Tom Holland is as good as ever and remains one of the few actors who can play a teenager and an adult without the need for any make-up or prosthetics. The Crowded Room will rank alongside the better half of Akiva Goldsman’s filmography even if it does not quite work, as well as his most acclaimed film, which follows a similar thematic journey. Ultimately, The Crowded Room is a solid limited series headlined by great performances from all involved. Once you watch the whole series, you may be tempted to go back and revisit it from the beginning and will not be disappointed at how well everything has been assembled.
The Crowded Room premieres on June 9th on AppleTV+.