Dir: Frank Cappello. US. 2007. 100 minutes.
Screening in the Spotlight Premiere section of SXSW, He Was A Quiet Man is an excellent, unpredictable and often extremely witty film that is, alas, going to have a difficult time finding an audience. A dark comedy that is really quite comic but also really, really dark, one simply can't imagine it doing well across the shopping malls of America, or, for that matter, even being picked up for distribution. However, a brilliant performance by Christian Slater and word-of-mouth publicity among devotees of films like Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind may bring success in the DVD format, and foreign distributors looking for proof that aesthetically serious films are still being produced in Hollywood should give this one a close look.
Slater plays Bob, a kind of 'I can't take it any more' potential mass murderer who daily plots to assassinate everyone in his office. On his lunch break, he pretends to blow up whole skyscrapers (nicely rendered through CGI effects) and when he comes home at night his talking pet fish berate him for once again lacking the courage to follow through on his bloody-minded plans.
Then one day a co-worker in fact does exactly what Bob has been planning all along. When the co-worker aims a second shot at Venessa (Cuthbert), whom Bob has a secret crush on, Bob whips out his own gun and cuts him down, becoming a hero in the process. Venessa, now a paraplegic, angry at first, comes to depend on Bob's daily, devoted ministrations and a complex relationship of dependency develops between them.
Slater as a homicidal, archly resentful nerd is superb, using his whole, twisted body, often with the aid of an extreme wide-angle lens, to express the inner workings of Bob's sick mind. First-time feature director Cappello, who has had a long career as a special-effects supervisor and who also wrote the script, is so consistently inventive that the audience never has any idea where the story will head next. (Of course, audiences accustomed to looking for reassurance in the movie theatre may find this very aspect deeply troubling.)
Tone shifts occur constantly, yet are so superbly orchestrated with the vagaries of the plot that they never confuse. The movie's surrealist level of talking fish and exploding buildings blends seamlessly with the 'real' world, because thinking audiences will willingly suspend disbelief, trusting that they are in the hands of someone who knows exactly what he is doing.
Another aspect that may not appeal to a broad audience is the relentless attack on the soul-destroying machinations of the American corporation, mostly in the person of Bob's boss, played by William H Macy. A lovely, subtle sex scene between the paraplegic Venessa and the seriously disturbed Bob is a treasure, but another moment of happiness, when Venessa is belting out a karaoke song, is abruptly concluded when her colostomy bag falls to the floor and grosses out her fun-seeking audience. It's that kind of film.
As Bob begins to grow in courage at Venessa's urging, the story slows a bit and the narrative becomes complicated, leading to a couple of mind-boggling reversals that could perhaps have been a little more clearly spelt out, but provide further evidence of the huge imaginative store that energises and humanises this deeply dark, endlessly inventive film.
Quiet Man Productions
Neo Art And Logic
William H Macy