April 6, 2018 Spinning Man (Movie Review)
Often, when people use five-dollar vocabulary in common parlance, they wholeheartedly believe that everyone around them is impressed, attracted, or intimidated. Daniel Oppenheimer, a psychology professor from UCLA wrote a Princeton-published paper about how, contrary to popular belief, unnecessarily long words used conversationally actually makes one look dumber. It was a rather involved study that failed to find a link between advanced fluency of a language and intelligence.
In Spinning Man, a film helmed by Swedish Director Simon Kaijser (En riktig jul Series, Stockholm East 2011), the characters are for better or worse, held captive by one of those socially inept, unnecessarily verbose people who eventually talks himself into a situation that he cannot talk himself out of. Released by production house Chimney, in association with Irish DreamTime, Psychological Thriller Spinning Man will make its way to select theaters and on VOD thanks to Lionsgate Premiere on Friday, April 6th, 2018.
Based on a book of the same title by George Harrar, this Hitchcockian tale follows Evan Birch (Guy Pearce: Ravenous 1999, Memento 2000), a slippery and lecherous professor of philosophy who left—or rather was ousted from—his prior teaching post, due to a scandal with a student. When a young girl in his lakeside California town goes missing and he is not only spotted at the scene, but cannot otherwise account for his whereabouts during said time, he becomes grizzled Detective Malloy’s (Pierce Brosnan: GoldenEye 1995, The Thomas Crown Affair 1999) prime suspect. It is unclear at the end whether or not he is the film’s protagonist or antagonist.
The brilliant Minnie Driver (Good Will Hunting 1997, Will And Grace series) portrays Evan’s long-suffering wife, Ellen Birch, who tolerates his infidelities, but has arrived at the end of her patience as police involvement has caused her and her family public embarrassment and outcry at the prospect of Evan being a person of interest in a murder investigation.
The picturesque settings of Spinning Man add much to the feeling of the film. It takes place in an enclave of California seemingly kissed by the bodies of water around it. There is a strange patina on windows that instills an eeriness to Evan’s plight. His office at the university is erudite but sterile, suggesting that he wants to convey intelligence but keep his family life separate. Everything about him is shrouded in an obsessively intellectual persona and not even his wife can break through it. He uses linguistic acrobatics and lofty, inaccessible philosophy to squirm his way out of taking responsibility for any wrongdoing. While he sees this as a hallmark of high intelligence, it only alienates everyone around him; no one buys any of it. The murky pall cast upon the set is perhaps a metaphor for the absurdly logical veil over the darkness within Evan.
Spinning Man as a story is sound: it is about a weak but cunning man implicated in a murder. However, the script written around it is quite often as weak as the man depicted. For instance, a car wash scene early in the film is so sugary and cliche that it may as well have been set to instrumental Ska music. Another glaring moment is when, in a moment of desperation, our modern scumbag protagonist asks a bartender in this digital age, “Have you got a telephone I can use?” Perhaps that line is a leftover relic of the 2003 book, when cellphones were less prevalent, but such is the lot of any screenwriter worth their sand to construct a faithfully modern rendition of their source material. Spinning Man is not a 2003 period piece, and if it were that would raise more questions than it would answer.
Despite a flimsy script, the performances proffered to it are first-rate. Despite having only a supporting role, the standout here must be Driver in her turn as Ellen Birch. Her rightfully indignant attitude toward being more a figurehead than a wife is displayed deeply in her body language until she is forced to use razor sharp verbal language when she cannot take anymore. She wears this character over her bones.
Pearce is as dynamic as ever as he portrays Evan in such a way that one cannot really call him a protagonist. The camera follows him, to be sure, but his actions and explanations thereof make the audience want to throw a drink in his face. Evan thinks he is so smart and likeable, but everyone is just rolling their eyes at a try-hard clown. Many people have someone like this in their lives and Pearce faithfully depicts this archetype. Brosnan, though sometimes betraying his Irish brogue, does well as the aged but steadfast Detective Malloy. He wears a knowledgeable expression and gives Evan all the rope he needs to hang himself, while not displaying outward exasperation of those trademark, tiresome verbal gymnastics. It is a measured performance that is among Brosnan’s best in recent years.
Overall, Spinning Man is a perfectly serviceable Psychological Thriller that will superficially tantalize and frustrate the senses in that indescribably lovable way that Psychological Thrillers do. For its admirable performances with a sometimes-questionable script, its inspired casting of the Birch family, and set design that often acts as an analog to its subjects, CrypticRock gives Spinning Man 3.5 out of 5 stars.