Friday, May 3, 2013

The Cinema File #166: "Phil Spector" Review

Before the start of the recent HBO film Phil Spector, we get a somewhat accusatory title card advising us that this is not a movie "Based On A True Story" but rather one inspired by true events, without being a commentary on them or an attempt to depict them accurately. This opening only serves to highlight my general complaint with movies like this that try to ride the coattails of tabloid news stories with shameless dramatic re-enactments. They often don't feel true to life, but more than that, they never seem to ever say anything about what they're depicting, just rehashing everything we know about whatever the topic is in a concise and often exploitative manner. This newest one is no different, and while the presence of Pacino, Helen Mirren, and Jeffrey Tambor add a little bit of fun to the proceedings, I am ultimately just as apathetic with the results as I always am with this weird biopic subgenre.

The Phil Spector story is built on the premise of this peculiar little man who may be a killer, or may just be an eccentric genius with impulse control issues. It didn't occur to me until I watched this movie, but Pacino is easily the perfect choice for this role, which is to say the kind of inspired insanity the actor brings to every character he plays fits perfectly with my albeit completely superficial estimation of the real life music producer. He takes the opportunity to ham it up with the kind of gusto that you'd only expect, often speaking in an unbroken stream of consciousness about his past success and odd ball view of the world, and it gets the point of the character across right away, even if its an obvious and somewhat hackneyed one.

Helen Mirren and Jeffrey Tambor play Spector's legal team, fighting what they believe to be a lost cause for a man they genuinely believe to be innocent, or at least not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and both of them make the film more engaging than most of these movies are. There's a reason you haven't read a review of the latest Casey Anthony TV movie starring Rob Lowe even though I've seen it and usually review everything I watch, because when I finally got down to writing it, I didn't have enough passion to fill a paragraph. Tambor is mostly there for laughs, but Mirren's character ends up being more interesting perhaps than even Spector himself as we watch her opinion of the man gradually change, while their relationship always remains complicated and ambiguous.

But again, the problem is one that appears to be inherent to the genre, which is that when all is said and done, all we've accomplished is to put together a greatest hits reel of a news story recent enough as to make the exercise unnecessary. We get the gun rack next to the wig rack, the facts of the case in loose sequential order, and all the little bits of strange but true things that may or may not have captivated you at the time, now with the added benefit of being fake and over in 90 minutes or so. When we finally reveal the giant afro wig, the thing most people will probably remember even if they never knew who Spector was, its framed with such pointless dramatic excess that you would have thought we'd just learned he was really Keyser Soze all along.

Phil Spector, the movie about the man Phil Spector, is arguably more watchable than most of these tabloid retelling movies, at least based on the others I've seen. That being said, its not nearly good enough that I'd go so far as to recommend it. The performances are fun and there are enough funny and or maudlin moments to carry you through to the end, but unless you're so obsessed with this case that you'd have to see this no matter what anyone says, I'd just as soon skip it. Spoiler - he goes to jail. Sorry if I ruined it for you. I believe they've already greenlit and cast the most recent pop culture court case with the Jodi Arias movie even before the jury's come back, as if there was any chance that wasn't going to happen, and for the same reasons that I didn't like this one, count me as one who can't bring himself to give a crap.
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