The Consultant on Prime Video review: Christoph Waltz can’t quite carry this by-numbers thriller

 (Courtesy of Prime Video)
(Courtesy of Prime Video)

“For those who work remotely, you have exactly one hour to get here in person or your contract will be terminated”. Few words could strike such fear into the hearts of a post-pandemic employee as these, barked by Christoper Waltz’s Regus Patoff in the opening episode of Amazon’s new dark workplace thriller The Consultant.

Based on a novel of the same name by Bentley Little, the twisted eight-part series sees serial baddie Waltz (Inglorious Basterds, Spectre/No Time to Die) as a mysterious Ukrainian consultant (with a mysteriously German accent) who arrives unannounced in the middle of the night and takes charge of video game company CompWare, after its director is shot dead in his office by a disturbed child visiting on a school trip. The whole thing is eerily similar, apparently, to the same violent games that the organisation produces.

Merciless as it is, Patoff’s loathing of remote working barely scratches the surface of the sinister whims of Waltz’s antagonist, who, among other things, makes a point of lining up all of his employees and smelling them on his first day in the job. One unassuming worker whose scent doesn’t pass the test is forced to strip naked and bucket-shower in his office to keep his job. Another finds herself sacked, locked out after arriving mere seconds late to the office in her wheelchair.

When two employees, the righteous Elaine (The White Lotus’s Brittany O’Grady), and increasingly irritating Craig (Nat Wolff), begin to investigate Patoff’s murky past – including a merger with a Russian company whose chief executive was later found decapitated – the pace picks up further still, but despite this seemingly juicy start, there is something missing in this twisty tale of corporate skullduggery that doesn’t seem to know quite what it wants to be.

At first glance it seems as though we might be watching a tongue-in-cheek satire, taking the reality of an increasingly consultancy-dependent society to its logical extreme. But for a show billed as a dark comedy, there is exceptionally little humour, or even levity, to speak of. And despite a stellar ensemble, an overwhelming coldness shrouds the action – none of the characters are three-dimensional enough to be likeable, even those who, like Elaine, we are clearly supposed to warm to.

Nat Wolff and Brittany O’Grady (Michael Desmond/Prime Video)
Nat Wolff and Brittany O’Grady (Michael Desmond/Prime Video)

Wolff, best known for The Fault in Our Stars, and O’Grady, are a likeable pair, though, and do a great job with the material at hand. What energy the show does have undoubtedly comes from them, and they have an easy chemistry which feels limited by the occasional will-they-won’t-they breadcrumbs scattered throughout. Wolff’s character is fleshed out a little more than O’Grady’s – who plays the moral barometer – and he effortlessly flips between both sides of the self-absorbed-tech-douche and morally-conflicted-nice-guy coin.

Ostensibly, The Consultant has got everything you want in a thriller: the psychopathic bad guy, bodybags, the bubbling sexual tension, the dingy underground ‘records room’ with a key hidden conveniently in plain sight. And Waltz is a reliably fabulous central villain, gradually dialing up the creepy by a notch each episode, but never quite tipping into the ridiculous.

But the plot, which revolves around Elaine and Craig’s investigation, just isn’t quite captivating enough, or compelling enough to allow full suspension of disbelief at the more absurd elements, such as an exclusive bar transforming overnight into a cubicled office, and the fact that Patoff, otherwise in perfect physical health, is apparently unable to walk up the stairs. It could be an interesting plot device under a different set of circumstances, but here it’s a real clanger.

There are some satisfying twists and relatively intriguing question marks (and eight half-hour episodes means the reveal doesn’t take much effort to arrive at). But ultimately, there isn’t quite enough meat in this to make it truly memorable.

The Consultant is out on Prime Video from February 24