Review: Pieces of Her, a fast-paced thriller

Toni Collette and Bella Heathcote in Pieces of Her

Pieces of Her is a female-oriented thriller about family, survival, and what we do for love. It’s pulse-racing, engaging, mysterious, and ultimately satisfying. The 8 part series was created by Charlotte Stoudt based on a novel by Karin Slaughter. Every episode was directed by Minkie Spiro. There are a few spoilers ahead about the early part of the story.

Pieces of Her is set in the US, but was filmed in Australia. Many Australian actors make an appearance in the very large cast.

Bella Heathcote in Pieces of Her

The story begins in the bucolic quiet of Belle Isle. Laura Oliver (Toni Collette) and her daughter Andy (Bella Heathcote) are having lunch in a cafe when a shooter jumps up and shoots two woman chatting with Laura and Andy.

Andy, who is a 911 operator and a gifted artist, cowers on the floor. Laura covers her daughter’s body with her own. Then she stands up to face the shooter and try to talk to him. He pushes a large hunting knife straight through the palm of her hand. With a fast flick, Laura turns the knife toward him and slits his throat.

Someone in the cafe filmed the whole thing. Laura’s uncharacteristic actions make the national news. Her face is everywhere. That’s when the problem starts.

Laura gives her daughter a purse with car keys, padlock keys, a phone, and money and tells her to go to a storage unit. There she will find a car that she must drive to Maine. Laura says that she and Andy are in danger now, and Andy must get to a safe place.

When Andy finds the car and sees what is in it, she starts off on her own part of the story. Instead of doing what her mother told her to do, she drives all over the country trying to learn who her mother actually is.

Laura isn’t who she says she is. Through a long process of investigation by Andy into who her mother really is we slowly learn the details. Lots of flashbacks are used.

Andy and her mom have been in witness protection for 30 years. Andy’s stepfather Gordon Oliver (Omari Hardwick) knows some of the story but not all of it. Their family friend Charlie (Gil Birmingham) is actually a US Marshall in charge of Laura’s case. Andy meets an attractive guy, Mike (Jacob Scipio), while she’s on the road. He turns out to be a US Marshall following her around.

Eventually we learn that Laura is a member of a rich family of pharmaceutical millionaires. Her real name is Jane Quellar. As a younger woman Jane is played by Jessica Barden.

Joe Dempsie and Jessica Barden in Pieces of Her

Young Jane fell in love with Nick (Joe Dempsie), a revolutionary. She helped him with several crimes. Jane was there when another revolutionary Nick recruited shot her father (Terry O’Quinn) dead on a public stage during a televised conference. So Jane came to be Laura and in witness protection.

That’s all the story details I want to give you, except to mention that Laura’s brother Jasper (David Wenham) is about to be nominated as a candidate for Vice President of the United States. Through Andy’s questioning, through flashbacks, memories, online searches of the news, and the tightening hunt of FBI and US Marshalls for the still missing Nick the story winds to an end.

Ultimately, the story is about mother and daughter. What happens when a daughter learns that nothing about her life is what she thought it was? Can she forgive her mother a lifetime of lies? How far will a mother go to protect her child? Does learning the truth make a difference? What does hiding the truth for 30 years do to a person? The action slows down a bit near the end as mother and daughter come to terms with their new reality. Then we’re hit with a final twist right at the end.

While exciting and interesting, this was not a perfect story. There were holes in the logic. Sometimes character motivation was a little off – for example, Andy went from cowering on the floor in fear to rampaging searcher for truth in a split second. The actors cast to play younger versions of both Toni Collette and Bella Heathcote weren’t a very close physical match. None of those flaws will stop you from enjoying this woman-centric thriller, however. Plus, it’s a rule that you have to watch anything that Toni Collette chooses to do, because you know it will be good.

Pieces of Her is streaming on Netflix.

5 thoughts on “Review: Pieces of Her, a fast-paced thriller”

  1. You are right. The reason I chose to watch this series was because of Toni Collette. The ending had me thinking “oh, no!” Since there is no sequel I have to live with that ending.

  2. I did not enjoy this series, sorry to say. After the first episode, it was all downhill for me. The plot was too slow, too drawn out with too much of the story told in flashback — though I understand why flashback was necessary to tell this particular story. A big issue for me was that at it’s root, the story was basically another female in distress/women as victims of men story, which I have long grown weary of, except as a twist, we are given two females in distress. As a measure of just how little I enjoyed Pieces of Her, I watched the series last weekend and I today can’t even remember how it ended (though that’s just as likely a fading geriatric memory, LOL).

    Beyond the watching paint dry pace of the plot, the acting was bland at best, with the exception, of course, of the always outstanding Toni Collette. Paraphrasing what you wrote: “it’s a rule that you have to watch anything that Toni Collette chooses to do, because you know *she* will be good. She was good. The series, for me, was not.

    1. No need to be sorry. Not everyone likes the same things. I’m surprised you continued watching to the end, but it’s too bad you don’t recall the ending. There was a twist that put Toni Collette’s character in a completely different light and changed a lot of what the story meant.

  3. christopher swaby

    i’d watch Ms. Collette in anything (loved her since seeing her in “Muriel’s Wedding”) so i watched this. there were some choices made by the characters that just didnt make sense to me in the moment and getting the backstory later didnt really help me understand why they made some of those choices. the acting was solid. the series didnt leave me upset that i had spent the time on it but it was a bit disappointing. that said, Ms. Collette, you still have a fan.

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