Someone Should Stop THE SPINNING MAN

An uninspiring mess of a “thriller.”

I guess at this stage of the game, it’s not the easiest thing to craft a solid psychological thriller. At least that’s the impression I got from the recently-released The Spinning Man, a seemingly straightforward exercise in suspense. Seemingly being the key word. What should have been a walk in the thriller park turned into a convoluted exercise in audience patience with a bunch of threads leading nowhere. There are just too many opposing sides to what should be an enjoyable flick, you get the sense that even the filmmakers themselves became confused to the point where they thought they were being brilliant.

Based on the novel by George Harrar, The Spinning Man centers on Evan Birch (Guy Pearce); a happily married college professor, whose life is turned upside down when circumstantial evidence leads to him being the prime suspect in the disappearance of a college student. Hungry for questions is Malloy (Pierce Brosnan), the detective on the case and Evan’s wife Ellen (Minnie Driver), both of whom begin to question his innocence and his guilt.

The main element driving The Spinning Man along is the search for the missing coed. Evidence such as an unaccounted for space of time and the appearance of Evan’s car at the location where the girl was last seen lead to being suspicious in Malloy’s eyes. Not helping Evan much is that he can’t remember certain details about the day in question. It sounds like there’s enough of the proper ingredients to make The Spinning Man the kind of thriller genre fans lap up, but screenwriter Matthew Aldrich and director Simon Kaijser don’t know what to do with any of them. For long periods of time, the case itself is barely mentioned, focusing instead on story elements which feel added only to make sure the film clocks in at a certain time. When the case is brought up, the moments play out in the most repetitive of fashions, rehashing everything already discussed before and insulting the audience’s intelligence in the process. Eventually, there’s not much to care about regarding the crime or whether or not Evan is guilty since it feels as if The Spinning Man barely cares either.

In what is one of the best recent examples of schizophrenic screenwriting, The Spinning Man also makes an attempt to function as a film about a troubled marriage. When progress on the crime lays dormant, the film indulges in a large handful of scenes focusing on the turmoil between Evan and Ellen. To its credit, this part of The Spinning Man actually works well. Ellen’s unhappiness with her own life, Evan’s past affairs, the love both share for their children and the moments in which the two actually display a still-burning love for one another are all points which are thoughtfully handled and explored. I’m not sure how much of this subplot was in the original novel, but it feels wholly awkward and out of place in this movie. In another world, there is a film featuring Pearce and Driver; a telling marital drama about two people once madly in love who have come to a crossroads and are now trying to determine what they mean to each other.

The irony/tragedy of all this direness is that the three leads turn in some decent performances. Pearce makes for a conflicted protagonist, trying to hold on to any semblance of normal while trying to decipher what indeed happened. Brosnan is appropriately menacing with a purpose, easing perfectly into the role of a detective out on the hunt. Finally, Driver brings real heart to the role of a wife questioning the life she’s made with a man she thought she knew. It’s a collection of great work from a more than capable trio stuck in a movie which just doesn’t deserve them.

Eventually The Spinning Man abandons any hope for originality and just settles on ripping off themes from the classic Memento, Pearce’s most famous film. Watching the actor essentially perform a lesser version the role which made him famous is even more painful that it sounds. But that’s just the sad state of The Spinning Man; a movie which, quite frankly, never had much of a chance. For much of the time, the two sides of the movie seemed to be on a kind of awkward date with both trying to get on the same wavelength and determine whether or not they have a genuine groove with one another. They don’t.

The Spinning Man is now available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Lions Gate Home Entertainment.

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