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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

HE WAS A QUIET MAN -- movie review by porfle

Unappreciated and often bullied in his menial job, office drone Bob Maconel (Christian Slater) sits in his cubicle fondling a gun and seriously entertaining the notion of blowing several of his co-workers away before offing himself. Suddenly he hears gunshots and sees people falling. Incredibly, another sad-sack employee has had the same idea and beaten him to the punch. Bob then spots the unrequited love of his life, Venessa (Elisha Cuthbert), lying wounded on the floor while the shooter takes aim to finish her off. Grabbing his own gun, Bob fills the guy full of holes and becomes a life-saving hero.

At first I thought HE WAS A QUIET MAN (2007) was going to be yet another account of a disturbed loner who goes postal and starts killing people, but after this early sequence I realized it might be somewhat less predictable than that. As a reward for his bravery, Bob gets bumped upstairs to a higher position that ends up being just as demeaning as his previous one, but with a window. When he goes to the hospital to visit Venessa, who is now paralyzed from the neck down, she spits in his face. Later, after she stops blaming him for her plight and they begin to form an emotional bond, she asks Bob to help her commit suicide. But he can't let go that easily now that the chance to win her love actually seems to be within his limited grasp.

For me, the most unforgettable scene takes place on the night Venessa plans to die under the wheels of a subway train. After spiriting her out of the hospital, Bob takes her to a swanky restaurant for an extravagant last meal, and then to a small karaoke bar where Venessa insists on taking the stage. She sings a heartfelt rendition of "Midnight Train to Georgia" in which Bob, after some urging, actually comes out of his shell enough to croak backup. As the smiling audience warms up to them, it seems for a moment that the now-joyful Venessa's suicidal urge is fading. Then, suddenly, something so utterly appalling happens that I couldn't believe writer-director Frank A. Cappello would actually do this to these characters! Venessa is humiliated beyond belief, and the scene is about as emotionally devastating as it gets.

Then it's on to the subway station, where Bob is supposed to release the wheelchair and allow the sloped platform to carry Vanessa over the edge and under the train. This sequence is so powerful it could stand alongside the best scenes from any classic film, while Elisha Cuthbert reaches an emotional peak in her performance that is heartrending. Whew...this is pretty dramatic stuff.

Christian Slater is fascinating to watch here, hardly resembling the same guy we've seen before. Not only has he been physically transformed, but his intense performance as Bob Maconel conveys the repressed rage and self-hatred that seem to eminate from his body, while the struggle to contain them renders him a perpetually hunched-over bundle of raw nerves. Even when basking in the presence of his beloved Venessa, he remains pathetic and unstable. There's plenty of room for humor here, though, since Bob is basically such a dork and his reactions to suddenly being treated like a hero are comical. Elisha Cuthbert ("24", CAPTIVITY) brings the character of Venessa to radiant life even though she only gets to act from the neck up throughout most of the movie. And as Bob's increasingly demanding and derisive boss Mr. Shelby, the great William H. Macy makes the most of his ability to portray a character whose sickly-sweet exterior masks an inner sleaze.

The inventive direction and camerawork keep things visually interesting, while Jeff Beal's outstanding musical score is almost deviously clever. I could've done without the fish, though--Bob's tropical fish talk to him in his mind, you see, and they're rendered with a half-realistic, half-cartoony CGI that takes me out of the movie whenever they appear.

The story continues to get more gripping as things go downhill. Mr. Shelby openly mocks the lovestruck Bob for thinking he may have a chance in hell with a classy babe like Venessa, especially if she were ever to regain her self-reliance. A company psychiatrist (John Gulager) nosing into the facts behind the office shooting begins to suspect that Bob isn't quite what he seems. And when Bob finally asks Venessa if she really loves him, his sanity seems to hang precipitously upon her answer.

All of which leads to the stunning conclusion, where the unrelieved tension we've seen roiling inside him since he first contemplated murder finally drives Bob to his last desperate act. The twist ending is a bit confusing at first--Cappello actually wrote and shot three alternate versions before deciding on this one, which indicates that he was a little confused himself--but there's a weird logic about it that seemed right even before I had time to think about it. And after the fade-out, HE WAS A QUIET MAN left an unquiet impression.

He Was a Quiet Man
He Was a Quiet Man [Blu-ray]

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