Sugar on Apple TV+ review: Colin Farrell charms as a private eye in this playful take on film noir

Sugar on Apple TV+ review: Colin Farrell charms as a private eye in this playful take on film noir

Film noir has a bad rap these days. Done badly, as it so often is, and it’s all reflections in puddles, hokey voiceovers and wobbly Thirties sets. But done well and it is wonderful, world-weary detectives struggling with a society gone wrong, grappling with the worst of humanity and looking great while doing it.

Colin Farrell’s new star vehicle Sugar is hyper aware of all this: of the visual and the plotting clichés of the genre that prove such a turn off and tackles them head on. It sets out – and largely succeeds – in creating a neo-noir that lovingly embraces film history while putting its own twist on it.

Set in modern day Los Angeles, Farrell plays John Sugar, a private investigator hired by film mogul Jonathan Siegel to find his missing granddaughter. So far, so Raymond Chandler... also extra points for casting James Cromwell as Siegel, so memorable in Nineties noir LA Confidential. It’s that kind of series: every way you look, it’s impossible not to trip over a reference. And all power to it for that.

“I’m one of the good guys, but here, good and bad is in the eye of the beholder,” is just one of the sentiments that could have been stripped out of a Dashiell Hammett or James M Cain pulp from back in the day.

When it doesn’t have characters saying “this is just like the movies”, the series is playing with the film stock and tones – black and white nod to the classics here, a grainy Super-8 there – and regularly cutting in clips of Bogart and others doing their best hard boiled performances.

Colin Farrell and Kirby Howell-Baptiste in Sugar (Apple TV+)
Colin Farrell and Kirby Howell-Baptiste in Sugar (Apple TV+)

Of course the search for Olivia Siegel brings in a cast of ne’er-do-wells, mixed up in blackmail, murder and scandal, mostly part of the same filmmaking family, from the oily grown-up child actor Davey to his father Bernie, a filmmaker whose oeuvre includes films like Cop vs Cop and Mr Mayhem.

There is also room to explore the private dick with the faintly ludicrous surname’s chequered past. Farrell is charming and taciturn as the titular Sugar, helping the homeless and cuddling dogs when he’s not wearing out his shoe leather looking for clues, but there are hints at a darkness there too. He’s handy with his fists, of course, but hates violence.

As well as the tropes, there are sides to his character that are decidedly unusual – beyond his obsession with movies, he’s unable to get drunk no matter the volume of booze he consumes, and he can speak pretty much every language under the sun. He also appears to be a member of some sort of secret society.

This all adds spice to the main noir plot, and while the pace is stately, those who let themselves be swept up in it will enjoy the ride. It’s playful with its genre, beautifully shot, and film buffs will enjoy spotting references to movie greats from The Big Heat to Sunset Boulevard – not a pool goes by without someone floating face down in it.

Enjoy; this is a lovingly referential take on one of the great genres of moviemaking and Farrell is great in it.

Sugar is on Apple TV+ from April 5