THE SILENT PARTNER: An Unparalleled Thriller Classic [Blu Review]

Elliott Gould and Christopher Plummer square off, smolder

Mild mannered and misunderstood Miles Cullen (Elliott Gould) is head teller at a Toronto-based bank branch in an upscale shopping mall. He collects fish, strikes out with the ladies, and plays against himself at chess. He’s a quiet guy who possesses guile and cunning without even necessarily being aware of that fact. That is, not until he solves a mystery before a crime has even happened, and takes the opportunity to set some money aside for himself.

This basic premise of The Silent Partner is at once simple and brilliant. Cullen becomes a fascinating protagonist the moment he realizes that the mall Santa is plotting to rob his bank, and rather than become terribly frightened or reporting his suspicions to the proper authorities, he instead quietly makes off with far more money than Christopher Plummer’s Santa-robber Reikle. A shocking, twisting, turning game of cat and mouse ensues as Reikle is revealed to be a cold-blooded and relentless man… but Cullen is shown to possess much more moral flexibility than might have been originally assumed.

With each threat that Reikle makes, each menacing phone call, each spy he deploys into Cullen’s life, he (and the audience) expects Cullen to cave. But, in a dramatic arc shockingly similar to that of Breaking Bad’s Walter White, Gould’s Cullen proves himself to be as ruthless and perplexing in his motivations as the antagonist. The cat and mouse game becomes all the more fascinating when the rules keep changing, and when our “hero” begins to resemble our “villain” as the stakes escalate and the screws tighten.

Literally everything about The Silent Partner is good. The peak capitalism setting of a thriving shopping mall and bustling Canadian bank branch during a busy Christmas season is perfect for the total disregard for morality its characters display. Curtis Hanson (who would later go on to an impressive directing career including L.A. Confidential and 8 Mile) adapts the original novel from Anders Bodelsen into an intelligent, crackling thriller populated by complicated human beings which escalates at a perfect rate for maximum tension and character development. Canadian Director Daryl Duke deftly guides his actors and imbues a real sense of time and place to his complex thriller. Elliott Gould is a beguiling lead who projects an outward nerdiness but contains multitudes which are shown to the audience through his actions and performance, not told. Christopher Plummer is somewhat of a revelation here, if only because he’s his typical fantastic self, but so much younger than this reviewer is used to seeing him. It’s worth noting that Plummer is an extremely attractive man in 2019, but his youthful virility here translates into a menace I’ve never seen from him elsewhere in his career. He sports these manicured fingernails and perhaps even eyelash extensions that make him simultaneously glamorous and apocryphal. It’s a terrifying portrayal of a madman bolstered and intensified by the protagonist’s seeming inability to comprehend how deep of a threat Reikle truly is.

Aside from our male leads, the cast is equally engaging. Susannah Yorke plays the uninhibited Julie, who just seems to be seeking some excitement in her life and gets perhaps more than she bargained for when the mild-mannered Miles executes his schemes unbeknownst to her. Celine Lomez plays the mysterious Elaine, who enters Miles’ life upon the death of his father. The Silent Partner is a surprisingly sexy movie, with an undeniable if unspoken sexual tension between the male leads themselves, as well as the various collisions of sexuality at play between the leads mentioned here. Hell, even a youthful John Candy finds love and marriage with the flirty new young teller at the bank. It seems The Silent Partner is interested in exploring the proximity of sexuality and danger in a gloriously 1978 fashion.

Ultimately that’s precisely what makes The Silent Partner stand out as one of the greatest thrillers I’ve ever seen: it forces us to reckon with matters of conscience, morality, and our nascent capability to go down dark paths at the blink of an eye. It explores not just the thrills and vices that can tempt us to do wrong, but also, as in Cullen’s case, the seeming lack of any real reason why we take a dark path in the first place. Cullen’s nail-biting crime and flawless execution of a cat and mouse game opens him up to the thrills of the criminal life which he’s never experienced before, but there’s no grand purpose or realization. He’s just a complicated guy who’s willing to manipulate those around him and shrug off horrendous violence simply to win a game. The Silent Partner ruminates on this without beating you over the head with it. We’re capable of terrible things even if we have mild exteriors. Some of us are more resourceful than others, but have no real code with which to use our skills to benefit humanity. The Silent Partner keeps us on the edge of our seat, rooting for Miles Cullen to pull off his heist, despite the total vacuous emptiness of the payoff.

The Silent Partner comes with the highest of recommendations. As a thriller it’s an all-time great. It’s perhaps meaner, nastier, and more nihilistic than many casual moviegoers might be prepared for. I watch violent films almost daily, and there was a murder and body disposal sequence here that still has me squirming and feeling unsafe in my home. It’s that good. Elliott Gould and Christopher Plummer engage in a bout for the ages, and all talent behind and before the camera deliver in top form. Play the game The Silent Partner wants you to play; on the other side you’ll find the self-reflective brutality that 1970s American cinema was so good at delivering, but you will most certainly also be entertained.

The Package

This is a great-looking movie from perhaps the best era of cinema. Kino got a strong modern interview with star Elliott Gould in which he seems quite taken by The Silent Partner, and a film historian panel provides an almost painfully insightful (and geeky) commentary track as well. This is a mind-blowingly underappreciated and unheralded thriller classic, and this release is doing us all a favor if more people discover The Silent Partner through its new life on US Blu-ray.

And I’m Out.

The Silent Partner is available June 18th, 2019 on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics

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