Synopsis – A happily married professor, known for having many affairs with students, becomes the prime suspect when a young woman has gone missing.
My Take – The financial and critical success of director David Fincher’s 2014 film adaption, Gone Girl has opened a gate to a flood of trippy intellectual thriller adaptions where everything about the premise is loaded with hooks and twists, however four years have passed and none have managed to hit the mark like the Ben Affleck starrer. Here, the film in question too belongs to a similar category, in the sense, it has great cast in the form of under rated actors like Guy Peace and Pierce Brosnan, a certified solid source material by being an adaption of a novel of the same name from author George Harrar, and a character-driven potboiler as promised by its trailers.
Unfortunately, this Simon Kaijser directed film doesn’t have the lurid pulp sensibilities nor the layers found to qualify itself as a compelling thriller, instead it feels more like a restrained Law & Order episode told from the point of view of an unreliable would-be criminal. It’s preoccupation with the philosophy of truth, memory and the stories we tell ourselves feels like a way for the filmmakers to convince themselves they have a film with deep, deep thoughts, but the film never quite manages to get to the meat of its own questions, or even offers satisfying answers to what has been laid over 100 minutes of its run time.
In the end the film does nothing but leaves you all confused and under-whelmed with a conclusion that didn’t confuse because it was too complicated, but because it felt so pointless, rushed and very mediocre to the least. If you really thought the 2015 remake of Secret in Their Eyes and last year’s The Snowman were offensive to the genre, wait till you get a hold of this one.
The story follows Evan Birch (Guy Pearce), a family man and esteemed professor at a distinguished college, where his good looks and charm have made his philosophy class very popular. However, his colorful history in engaging in extracurricular activities with his students, comes back to haunt him when Joyce (Odeya Rush), a local teenage cheerleader, who he may have known goes missing. As his car was seen in the area, Detective Malloy (Pierce Brosnan) makes him a key part of the investigation, which brings up specters from his past in the mind of his wife, Ellen (Minnie Driver).
Even though Birch is adamant about his innocence, as the evidence begins to accumulate, not only Malloy and Ellen begin to doubt him, but Birch himself begins to doubt his own memories. As fragments of memories come back to haunt him as his marriage cracks, he just can’t recall what his part in the crime was perhaps he has convinced himself he didn’t do the crime. In what sense is our title character spinning? Is he spinning because his world has turned upside down and he’s in a state of free-fall- or is he spinning in the sense of providing a biased interpretation of events in order to persuade opinion? Well we never find out.
While the film almost works like an experimental film, in which it seems to ask the question: what if you constructed a murder procedural in which the crime’s never resolved? Yes, unlike the film isn’t quite a mystery, because, while the disappearance of a teenage girl is important to the plot, it isn’t the key point of the story. The film isn’t quite a thriller, either, though the story’s center has an accused man, who constantly rejects the accusations of his involvement in the girl’s disappearance and possible murder, the screenplay by Matthew Aldrich is intentionally vague about whether the protagonist’s protestations are sincere or false. We don’t know if the cops are after the wrong man, and that doubt makes it difficult to sympathize with the character.
However, this evasiveness – particularly in terms of narrative cohesion – becomes tiresome after a while, especially once it’s clear that there isn’t really going to be a defined climax around the 100-minute mark. Even though, the film moves along at a steady pace, it’s hard to stay engaged with all this dorm room-ready discussion regarding the complex politics of the mind, when it becomes increasingly clear that there’s not going to be any sort of pleasing payoff to the more traditional elements of the storyline. I think director Kaijser’s film really wanted to be a bit more cerebral than it is. It uses some quick edits of Birch’s memories and fantasies to give a sense of suspense. That at times blurs what may or may not have happened. That fits the idea that memory is flawed, but it never serves to advance us to what truth there might be found. It also never quite gives us all the information about Birch and his past. We’re never quite sure if we should trust what he’s telling us.
The same may be true of Malloy. Perhaps his theories about Birch are driving him in the wrong direction and causing him to see Birch as a suspect when he is really innocent. Also, director Kaijser‘s aesthetics are in direct conflict with the weighty themes he’s trying to convey, as we keep waiting for the storyline to kick in and take us home in any satisfying fashion. Also, at times, the material plays with more intelligence than we might expect from such fare, as when Evan and Malloy, an educated man himself, have a philosophical debate that subtly transforms into a hypothetical interrogation that’s anything but hypothetical. Evan himself is such a conundrum—a man who is either so involved in his line of work that he can’t accept reality as it is or so devoted to subjective truth that he has become a master of deception—that he’s inherently fascinating.
What’s frustrating is that the film’s structure hints at another shoe, just waiting to drop. Yet every time we believe Malloy’s on the verge of a breakthrough, director Kaijser cuts back to the thinker and his many women, chatting about the morality of their numerous relationships; sexual, professional, platonic, and otherwise. While, director Kaijser and screenwriter Matthew Aldrich never bring Evan and Malloy’s contrasting methods of divining truth into total opposition, the film is ultimately tethered to the strictures of a procedural thriller, as it’s rife with functional dialogue and plotting as well as forgettable aesthetics, which cumulatively reduce the existential calisthenics to filler.
A subplot between Evan and his wife, Ellen is particularly obligatory, reducing Ellen to a suffering font of exposition, while one of Evan’s students, Anna (Alexandra Shipp), is relegated to the role of alluring jailbait and potential red herring. Even though, certain moments throughout the film allude to the sublimely gamey thriller that might’ve been. There’s a supple, sub textually layered scene in Evan’s classroom where Malloy looks at the chair that Evan has instructed his class to rationalize into existence and asks, What chair?, a chillingly simple retort that illustrates Malloy’s craftiness, and education, while alluding to Evan’s possible failures of perception. Another similarly troubling scene toys with the idea that Evan may have imagined his own daughter into existence, yet these moments prime the audience for a mind-fuck that never quite arrives.
But wait the worst comes in the form of its ending, as the discovery of what actually happened becomes almost anticlimactic. With some decent cinematography and fine acting, you could almost have listed it as forgettable, until we are left short changed with the conclusion of the disappeared body. It just seems too abrupt too fit with a story that has tried to obfuscate reality and truth all along the way. What could’ve been a nice companion to a modern masterpiece like Gone Girl ends up becoming little more than a curiosity for fans of all the brilliant actors involved. While Guy Pearce is as always watchable and often memorable, it Pierce Brosnan’s appropriately quiet and world-weary that wins you over. While Minnie Driver is underused, she adds what can to the thankless role, her presence significant in a few key moments. In smaller roles, Clark Gregg, Alexandra Shipp, Odeya Rush are wasted. On the whole, ‘Spinning Man’ is a forgettable thriller that is devoid of any form of suspense and purpose.
Directed – Simon Kaijser
Rated – R
Run Time – 100 minutes