The filmography of Justin Timberlake would look terrifying in graph form. Starting out in movies when still at the peak of his pop career, a steady ascent sped up dramatically in 2010 with a starring role in David Fincher’s The Social Network. More recently, well — you can plot for yourself the trajectory of Trolls, Woody Allen clunker Wonder Wheel and then, unfortunately, Trolls World Tour. In the circumstances, you can see how prison would appeal — at least as back-story for a mournful but uplifting character study, the kind an actor can restore himself in.

Welcome to Fisher Stevens’ Palmer, in which Timberlake plays Eddie Palmer, like so many small-town college football stars before him destined to end up with a 12-year stretch. Naturally, we meet him as a newly ex-convict returning home to Louisiana. Palmer’s intentions are good but his days aimless and nights ill-fated, at least until he finds himself de facto guardian of a gender nonconforming young neighbour. On paper the set-up risks glibness, but the execution is sweet. If you and I and everyone we know have seen the rest before, Timberlake plays it like we haven’t. That much is sometimes — just about — enough.


On Apple TV+ from January 29