Review: An impeccable Christoph Waltz makes cost-cutting cool in ‘The Consultant’

Image via Prime Video
Image via Prime Video

Created and written by Tony Basgallop (Servant), The Consultant brings Hollywood chameleon Christoph Waltz (No Time to Die) to Prime Video – breathing life into productivity expert Regus Patoff. 

Set in the world of app-based computer games, The Consultant opens at CompWare, as audiences are swiftly introduced to Elaine (Brittany O’Grady) and Craig (Nat Wolff). One is a personal assistant to tech wunderkind Mr. Sang (Brian Yoon), while the other remains a lowly coder. However, their ergonomically open plan office soon comes tumbling down, when an unexpected assailant cuts down Mr. Sang in his office without warning.  

With redundancy imminent and headquarters understandably off-limits, Elaine decides to go in one last time to remove some clandestine surveillance cameras – installed in secret at Mr. Sang’s insistence. Unable to sleep and still reeling from that traumatic event, Craig also finds himself back at HQ when Regus first makes an appearance.  

Standing in the deserted foyer he is polished, poised, and perfectly tailored. In one hand he holds a black briefcase, while his steely gaze appraises the two people before him. From that moment on, Regus sets about outlining his primary function, while Elaine and Craig regard him with suspicion. A document is brought forth outlining Mr. Sang’s wishes, which in turn allows Patoff to take up residency in the blood-stained office. 

What exactly Basgallop is doing in this opening episode is unclear. Whether he is exploring the notion of professional ambition, satirizing corporate workplace policies, or merely pointing out how self-perpetuating most professional pursuits are is up for debate. However, irrespective of his intentions, what he has done is gifted Waltz an opportunity to craft an enigmatic character. 

To a certain extent, what passes for plot in The Consultant is inconsequential, since it essentially draws drama from the human condition. As the demands put upon this team by their self-appointed CEO get more ridiculous, there are those that buckle and bail, while others draw on deeper reserves of professional tolerance. If comparisons are to be made between The Consultant and any another show, that would be the Apple original Severance.  

Beneath the thin veneer of practiced courtesies which cover untold agendas, both dramas subtly dissect social obsessions with success and status. Information and its application are also explored, as antiquated personnel records soon play a part in streamlining once Regus has found his feet.  

Under lock and key down in the basement, there is a single desk, an old-fashioned typewriter, not to mention an overflowing ashtray. Suddenly, an overabundance of hard copy documenting every detail holds more power than terabytes of cloud-based data ever could. In the meantime, employees are sacked for missing deadlines, others are trimmed for long-term sickness, while productivity gradually improves.  

Even in the latter stages of The Consultant, Regus remains an enigma. Regarded with fear by the weak-willed and reluctantly respected elsewhere, his true purpose is never really clarified. From a dramatic perspective, this means that audiences are often left wondering why they should keep watching.  

From impromptu loyalty tests designed to push their buttons, through to ad-hoc opportunities there to test his employees and their limits, Regus remains the main reason to keep watching. As solid as the ensemble cast might be in giving this story gravitas, The Consultant really belongs to Waltz from the off; proving himself to be coolly calculating, endlessly charming, yet unerringly enigmatic with minimal effort.  

Unfortunately, what gives the series such strength also proves to be its biggest weakness, since Oscar winners aside, audiences need more than allegorical drama. Although it seeks to be contemporary in its examination of workplace culture, The Consultant occasionally gets bogged down by incoherence. Heavy-handed symbolism and dramatic distractions muddy the waters on more than one occasion, marring an otherwise intelligent show. 

Although the high concept notion of a productivity expert with an unpleasant agenda might sound engaging, unless there is something more substantial fleshing that out, things grind to a halt. In this instance, what audiences are left with is a series of episodic cliffhangers, which promise closure but rarely deliver anything close to that.  

This is exactly where The Consultant falls down, as people will understandably invest in a promising premise, enjoying each thirty-minute bite sized segment, while momentum gradually grows. However, when it becomes apparent that Basgallop is dealing in allegorical allusions rather than concrete facts, people are likely to be disappointed.     

Good

'The Consultant' features a complex central performance from an ever-watchable Christoph Waltz, in a show which is only limited by its adherence to allegorical overtones, rather than compelling concrete drama.