Skip to main content

The Consultant review: a darkly comic, disappointing thriller

Christoph Waltz stands at the top of a staircase in The Consultant.
The Consultant
“Amazon Prime's new workplace thriller, The Consultant, unsuccessfully tries to bridge the gap between acid-tongued satire and pulpy genre entertainment.”
  • Christoph Waltz's charismatic lead performance
  • A slick, cohesive aesthetic and visual style
  • A lackluster season 1 finale
  • One-note supporting characters
  • Numerous confusing logic jumps and plot holes

Anyone who has ever had a terrible boss will likely have a hard time watching The Consultant. The new Prime Video dark comedy series, which is based on a 2016 novel of the same name by Bentley Little, takes the cringe-inducing clichés of toxic workplace culture to their absolute extremes. From domineering bosses and unorthodox, unethical work schedules to an overwhelming, enforced fear of job loss, The Consultant is full of so many shocking HR violations that it might as well come with a trigger warning targeted at anyone who still has nightmares about the conditions of some of their past jobs (this writer included).

Altogether, The Consultant’s satirical, keen-eyed jabs at America’s toxic corporate culture might seem like too much to bear. That would be the case, at least, were it not for the moments of comedic, winking outrageousness that are littered throughout the series’ 10-episode first season. Written and run by British TV veteran Tony Basgallop, The Consultant aims to be both a treatise on the dangers of undying corporate devotion and an acidic piece of pulpy genre entertainment. The series, unfortunately, doesn’t always ride that line as well as it should.

Brittany O'Grady and Nat Wolff stand in an office together in The Consultant.
Michael Desmond/Prime Video

While flawed, The Consultant does prove that typecasting an actor in a role they’ve already perfected can sometimes be for the best. That’s the case, at least, when it comes to Christoph Waltz’s performance as The Consultant’s eponymous corporate fixer, a mysterious man of unknown origin named Regus Patoff. With his strange quirks, obsessive interest in neatness, and ability to verbally manipulate anyone who comes into contact with him, Regus isn’t all that different from some of Waltz’s most iconic roles, including Inglourious Basterds‘ Hans Landa.

If Waltz’s casting as Regus is predictable, The Consultant makes it clear that there never really was another man for the job. Waltz is pitch-perfect in his latest role, which requires him to alternate between blatant malevolence and moments of polite manipulation with a Cheshire Cat-esque sense of glee. Waltz, predictably, does so without ever breaking much of a sweat. The Consultant doesn’t, however, handle its characterization of Regus quite as well as Waltz does.

From the moment he first arrives on the scene, it’s clear that Waltz’s odd corporate consultant is a person — or being — of callus efficiency. Dressed in an impeccable suit and carrying a simple briefcase, Regus arrives at the Los Angeles headquarters of CompWare, a mobile gaming company, just a few nights after the company’s founder and CEO was shot and killed in his own office. Regus’ arrival is witnessed only by Elaine (Brittany O’Grady), an ambitious assistant, and Craig (Nat Wolff), a slacker coder who is instantly suspicious of Waltz’s fixer. Craig, to his credit, isn’t wrong to be a bit paranoid about Regus’ methods and intentions.

Brittany O'Grady stands on an office walkway in The Consultant.
Andrew Casey/Prime Video

Not only does Regus seem totally unbothered by the brutal murder of CompWare’s CEO, but he immediately inserts himself as the company’s new, de facto leader. Regus’ executive decisions, which include the firing of any remote workers who don’t immediately report to CompWare’s offices, range from coldly heartless to underhanded and downright criminal. Ultimately, though, it’s O’Grady’s Elaine and Wolff’s Craig, as well as Craig’s unsuspecting fiancée, Patti (Aimee Carrero), who are tested the most by Regus’ presence and discomforting business methods.

Across its first 10 episodes, The Consultant doesn’t run out of ways for Waltz’s Regus to manipulate Craig and Elaine. However, the series goes out of its way to build a mystery around Regus’ origins that not only proves to be lackluster, but also pushes The Consultant’s already thin sense of logic to its breaking point. While it makes sense for Craig and Elaine to be initially accommodating toward Regus, their continued willingness to go along with even his most dastardly of plans strains whatever sense of realism Basgallop might have been trying to achieve.

The Consultant’s willingness to bounce back and forth between razor-sharp moments of satire and purely pulpy action sequences — like an explosive jewelry store robbery and nighttime kidnapping — provides it with a sense of tonal unpredictability that makes watching it, at the very least, an often engaging experience. The series’ moments of pure genre fun frequently muddy and dull its more reality-based takedowns of workplace culture, though. The Consultant, as a result, ends up feeling like little more than a stylish, but hollow exercise in genre storytelling.

Christoph Waltz looks down through a glass floor in The Consultant.
Courtesy of Prime Video

Season 1 of The Consultant does boast a lineup of talented directors, including WandaVision helmer Matt Shakman, who directs the series’ premiere installment. Charlotte Brändström (The Rings of Power) and Karyn Kusama (Yellowjackets), meanwhile, direct some of the show’s later installments, and both maintain the same slick visual style throughout The Consultant’s climactic episodes that Shakman establishes in its first. Unlike most modern prestige TV series, The Consultant doesn’t overstay its welcome, either. The series’ first season is comprised of just eight half-hour installments that never feel egregiously long or short.

Basgallop fails to stick the landing in The Consultant’s season 1 finale, though, which attempts to wrap up the series’ existing storylines while simultaneously setting up a potential future for itself. The closing moments of the show’s eighth episode not only leave many lingering questions either unanswered or unaddressed, but they also unconvincingly sweep some of its biggest plot holes and logic jumps under the rug. Its anticlimactic conclusion leaves The Consultant feeling oddly slighter than its eight-episode length and capable cast would otherwise suggest. It’s a series that, despite featuring one truly standout lead performance, is ultimately less than the sum of its parts.

The Consultant is now streaming on Prime Video. Digital Trends was given early access to all eight episodes of the series’ first season.

Editors' Recommendations

Decision to Leave review: An achingly romantic noir thriller
Tang Wei looks at Park Hae-il in Park Chan-wook's Decision to Leave.

With its lush sets and perpetually probing camera, Decision to Leave looks and moves like any other Park Chan-wook film, but it reverberates with the same untempered passion present in Golden Age noirs like In a Lonely Place and Double Indemnity. Unlike those two films, though, which center their stories around a hot-tempered screenwriter and naïve insurance salesman, respectively, Decision to Leave follows another common noir archetype: the lovelorn detective (played here by Park Hae-il).

In the film’s opening moments, Hae-jun, the detective in question, lands a case involving the mysterious death of a recreational rock climber. The case, in typical noir fashion, leads to Hae-jun crossing paths with Seo-rae (a spellbinding Tang Wei), his victim’s gorgeous but eccentric widow. Perturbed by how disinterested she is in unpacking her abusive husband’s death, Hae-jun begins to tail and spy on Seo-rae, unaware that doing so will only further intensify his attraction to her. As far as noir plots go, this is about as familiar as it gets. With its nods to Hitchcock and lightly self-aware attitude, Decision to Leave makes it clear that it doesn’t mind treading the same narrative terrain as so many of the noir classics that have come before it, either.

Read more
Amsterdam review: An exhausting, overlong conspiracy thriller
Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, and John David Washington walk through a lobby together in Amsterdam.

Amsterdam could have been forgiven for being a lot of things, but dull is not one of them. The new film from writer-director David O. Russell boasts one of the most impressive ensemble casts of the year and is photographed by Emmanuel Lubezki, one of Hollywood’s premier cinematographers. Beyond that, its kooky premise and even wackier cast of characters open the door for Amsterdam to be the kind of screwball murder mystery that O. Russell, at the very least, seems uniquely well-equipped to make.

Instead, Amsterdam is a disaster of the highest order. It’s a film made up of so many disparate, incongruent parts that it becomes clear very early on in its 134-minute runtime that no one involved — O. Russell most of all — really knew what it is they were making. It is a misfire of epic proportions, a comedic conspiracy thriller that is written like a haphazard screwball comedy but paced like a meandering detective drama. Every element seems to be at odds with another, resulting in a film that is rarely funny but consistently irritating.

Read more
My Best Friend’s Exorcism review: Fighting mean girls (and meaner demons)
Elsie Fisher and Amiah Miller sit on a bed in a scene from My Best Friend's Exorcism.

The teenage years can be scary, even without the threat of demonic possession. Throw a sinister supernatural element into the mix, and the experience becomes, well ... only slightly more terrifying, actually.

That's one takeaway from director Damon Thomas' My Best Friend's Exorcism, which delivers a scary-fun paranormal thriller filtered through a coming-of-age drama about two teenage girls in the 1980s whose lifelong friendship is threatened when one of them becomes the unwilling host of an infernal entity. That this supernatural encounter occurs while the girls are navigating young adulthood turns the typical social hellscape of high school into something more sinister, and tests their friendship in unexpected and terrifying ways.

Read more