Few directors can balance an ensemble quite like Steven Soderbergh. The director behind Ocean’s Eleven, Logan Lucky, and Traffic loves to let stars excel with big performances. Yet he’s at his best when he turns down the temperature, allowing actors to embrace their subtle differences within a larger team. Working off screenplays from creator Ed Solomon, Soderbergh returns to what he does best. Combining heists, crimes, corporations gone awry, and high personal stakes, Full Circle comes together like a fine wine. The six-episode series stands out as Soderbergh’s best work in years and features incredible performances from several unknown actors. After Full Circle, it’s unlikely they’ll stay that way.
After a shooting and grab for money, a small organized crime family (Jharrel Jerome, CCH Pounder, Phaldut Sharma) hatches a plot to kidnap the grandson of a famous chef (Denis Quaid). However, in the process, they loop in too many wildcards. Young Ghanaians Louis (Gerald Jones), Xavier (Sheyi Cole), and Natalia (Adia) see this as an opportunity to go home. Chef Jeff (Quaid) does not understand why his family is targetted, but secrets from Sam (Claire Danes) and Derek (Timothy Olyphant) begin unraveling. Combined with a decades-old story of corruption, detective Mel Harmony (Zazie Beetz) hopes to solve the case before she gets fired from her job.
Solomon and Soderbergh create a world that feels extremely tangled until, suddenly, the pieces fall into place. It elevates tension with physical threats against children (Ethan Stoddard & Lucian Zanes), but the actions of those in the shadows make the most significant difference. It features immaculately pacing and reveals as one expects of Soderbergh-directed projects. The audience may rush to keep up with the twists and turns, but we’re also privy to dramatic tension. As we watch characters try to lie to each other, we become increasingly aware of which characters are trustworthy narrators.
The performances from the cast are all excellent, with Pounder, Jerome, Jones, and Cole all delivering standout work. Pounder has limited screen time, but Full Circle is among the best material she’s ever been given. Jerome proves dynamic as ever, owning the screen with a sense of entitlement, anger, and imposter syndrome. His oversized confidence creates issues in the world of the show, and Jerome harnesses his emotion to perfection.
Jones and Cole are breakthrough performers, delivering two very different immigrant experiences through empathetic means. Their greatness unlocks the rest of the series as they struggle with their place in the American dream. The actions they take are both selfish and selfless. With Adia, they become Full Circle‘s most compelling narrative, primarily because they are so compelling. Solomon and Soderbergh wisely give them empathic and relatable struggles, having us side with them despite the actions they must take to survive.
Sharma gets one of the most intricate arcs over the season and proves he deserves more than the four-episode recurring roles that have built his career. Soderbergh gives Sharma several showcase moments, and he delivers to create a unique element at the edge of the story. Beetz and Olyphant are reliable as ever, and while they are never at the center of the frame, they prove that good intentions matter in these stories. Danes gets some of her best material since the end of Homeland and rises to the occasion. Quaid, Jim Gaffigan, and William Sadler are perfectly utilized to provide texture to the background.
However, Solomon and Soderbergh’s ability to critique capitalism and colonialism provides Full Circle with its most intriguing aspects. Looking at Full Circle through the lens of Solomon and Soderbergh’s collaborations, the two focus on the dangers business creates for the world. The greed and obsession with creating more wealth often result in spiraling violence. A simple act can leave decades of chaos in its wake, creating a horrifying “butterfly effect” that destroys lives. Soderbergh, in particular, seems focused on the various ways we interact with capitalism inday, from basketball players, dancers, money launderers, celebrity chefs, and car companies. It may seem disconnected, but through Soderbergh, the work comes together like a mosaic.
No one will be surprised to hear that Soderbergh crafted a brilliantly complex series. Yet it should be said that Full Circle takes a minute to get into its groove. However, once it does, Solomon and Soderbergh deliver a stunning tense thriller. With a brilliant cast and an important story, Full Circle is the perfect kind of series that this digital age should embrace.