It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
It's a basic movie situation. Desperate criminals are trapped and surrounded. They have hostages. The hard-boiled cop in charge issues an ultimatum. During a long and exhausting night, the tension builds while the men consider their options. And the hostages try to reason them out of a dangerous decision. In the old days it was always Pat O'Brien as the good Irish cop, a bullhorn to his mouth, shouting out a final ultimatum.
Why did the actor Kevin Spacey choose this formula for “Albino Alligator,” his first film as a director? Maybe because it's fun for the actors, who are required to move through plateaus of emotions. Maybe because by limiting the action mostly to one room, it eliminates distractions and allows for a closer focus. Maybe because he liked the screenplay by Christian Forte--even though it violates that old writer's rule: `Never quote your title in the dialogue.' Spacey does what can be done with the material, but it never achieves takeoff velocity. The heart of the problem, I think, is our suspicion that in real life these situations don't turn into long discussions. The crooks are likely to be too scared, too inarticulate or too confused for the kind of verbal jockeying that occupies most of “Albino Alligator.” The enterprise seems contrived--more like an actors' workshop than a drama.
The story takes place in New Orleans, where we see a group of law enforcers on a stakeout. Three robbers--not the ones the feds are looking for--botch a job at a warehouse and try to make a quick getaway. They have the bad luck to run directly into the federal roadblock, and a cop is killed (there's a nice shot here of a book of matches; he needed a light at just the wrong time).
In the car are Law (William Fichtner), who is a cold psychopath; Milo (Gary Sinise), who seems more like your high school civics teacher than a criminal, and Dova (Matt Dillon), who is the leader of the gang but not necessarily in control. Two agents are killed when the chase goes wrong, and Milo is injured; the three stumble into an all-night dive poetically named Dino's Last Chance.