It’s probably a good thing that Eric Bana’s real accent (Australian) is a far cry from John Meehan’s, the character that he plays in Netflix’s Dirty John. Because otherwise, you might think he did just too good a job and mistake him for a creep too. Bana himself admitted that after a day’s shoot, he’d feel “dirty”, like he couldn’t look women in the eye.
And it’s no wonder too. Dirty John centres around what a lot of law enforcers perceive as one of the most dangerous and charismatic men they’ve ever come across. The series, based on Wondery’s podcast by the same name, captures the story of businesswoman Debra Newell as she falls under the lies and manipulation of con man John Meehan.
There are a lot of great stories out there but what’s particularly striking is that there isn’t a whole lot of this one that had to be dramatized. I binge-watched the series, and then turned to the podcast to learn more. There were so many things I found out that made me go, “You mean that actually happened?” I also remember thinking somewhere around episode three of the TV series, “Well, that’s the end of that story. How much more could there be?” Turns out, quite a lot. As I approached the final episode, Saskia persisted that I wouldn’t be able to see the ending coming. And she was right. Don’t worry, no spoilers here, but let me just say that the only downer is realizing that all this really happened. Lives were ruined, families ripped apart and I’m sure that some people will probably find it hard now to trust plain old nice guys.
Real life aside, I remember marveling at how well cast this series is. The layers and complexity that the characters bring to life make a ton of other dramas seem two-dimensional in comparison. Bana’s Meehan is boyish, likable, and yet pathetic and hateful at the same time. One scene in a lawyer’s office has him just sitting and brooding in a chair. He doesn’t say anything. He just sits and stares. But the waves of tension and pure evil that he embodies is so thick you almost want to back away from the screen.
In contrast, Connie Britton’s Debra Newell is as sweet and golden-hearted as the real character is described in the podcast. I promise you’ll ask yourself so many times why she didn’t just leave him, and yet, when you see her character on screen, it’s pretty understandable why. Like the entire story, if someone just painted the outlines for you, it’d come off as unbelievable. But the series brings about the tiny nuances, human flaws and tensions that make you see how a person can be driven to do the most outrageous things.
Netflix describes this series as “ominous” and I couldn’t agree more. If you want a nail-biter, check this one out.