In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

RogerEbert.com

Thumb_american_sniper

American Sniper

American Sniper proves the dictum “never count an auteur out” by proving itself as Eastwood’s strongest directorial effort since 2009's underrated Invictus pretty much right…

Thumb_large_20ut2u5dmgl6szdu0adaq8u5zoc

The Interview

Opportunities at rich satire flatten out into Hangover dude-dope-doodoo jokes, where the premise is that there’s nothing funnier than watching over-privileged grown men act out…

Other Reviews
Review Archives
Thumb_xbepftvyieurxopaxyzgtgtkwgw

Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

Thumb_jrluxpegcv11ostmz1fqha1bkxq

Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives
Other Articles
Channel Archives

Reviews

Phil Spector

Phil Spector Movie Review
  |  

Phil Spector remains an enigma after his 2009 conviction for the death of actress Lana Clarkson six years earlier. He's in prison today. Clarkson, dead of a gunshot wound, was found in his mansion. Was it suicide, an accident or murder?

Spector was a record producer famous for a technique, called “The Wall of Sound," that he developed to create an overall style for his groups. Wikipedia tells me: “Spector called his technique 'a Wagnerian approach to rock & roll: little symphonies for the kids.' ” He named and renamed groups, selected their material, acted as their svengali and essentially created the soundtrack for freeway commuting in L.A.

In the case of “Phil Spector,” the Wall of Sound Man is played by Al Pacino, loosely inspired by life, as in another recent performance, that time as euthanasia advocate Dr. Jack Kevorkian.

He plays the role cannily. His Spector knows if he's guilty of murder, but we don't, and that adds to the film's interest. The script is by director David Mamet, who as he often does, prefers an almost hypnotic style in which a character seems to be arguing with himself. This could have happened. That could have happened. The character was there and saw whatever happened, and he doesn't know.

This phenomenon is underlined by Spector's lifestyle. Enormously wealthy, reclusive, he lives inside a forbidding structure, which as he approaches and leaves through its iron gates, reminds us of Xanadu in “Citizen Kane.”

The co-star is Helen Mirren, playing Linda Kenney Baden, the attorney who was successfully able to reach a retrial in a case where, as one line of dialogue has it, if Spector wasn't found guilty on the merits of his case, he'd be found guilty on grounds of the notorious O.J. Simpson murder case. Mamet deliberately avoids portraying Baden as heroic, or even right or wrong. She's simply doing her best job.

The film contains scant suspense and few surprises, and depends largely on Pacino's work as an articulate and eccentric painter of his own portrait. His description of his hairstyle, as photographed while back-lighted, has a peculiar charm. Hair also plays a role in the Mirren performance. Baden clings to a blond style that must have been more becoming 20 years ago.

Winning the hung jury in the first trial is a tribute to Baden, who in an effective drawing, shows a small-caliber bullet entering the victim's skull, bouncing off its back wall and making a U-turn. Stranger things have happened. Not a lot.

The dialogue, vaguely Mametian, might have profited by more of the Mamet style. He seems bogged in realism. Few write better dialogue than Mamet at full power. Here he seems at half-steam.

A first-rate supporting cast, including Jeffrey Tambor and Matt Malloy, illuminates second-rate supporting roles. “Phil Spector” is just about ideal as an HBO movie; watchable and gossip-worthy but just not that compelling.

Popular Blog Posts

Who do you read? Good Roger, or Bad Roger?

This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...

Roger Moore's Best: "The Spy Who Loved Me"

An FFC comments on Roger Moore's best James Bond film, "The Spy Who Loved Me."

The Ten Best Films of 2014

The ten best films of 2014, as chosen by the film critics of RogerEbert.com.

The Ten Best TV Programs of 2014

The best television programs of 2014.

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus