He Was a Quiet Man
directed by Frank A. Cappello
(Starz, 2007)

I don't know that I've ever seen an actor's performance hailed as implosive (as opposed to explosive), but I think Variety really nailed it on the head when they used that word to describe Christian Slater's performance in this film. Elisha Cuthbert doesn't exactly embarrass herself, either, in a fairly challenging role opposite the most uncommon of film protagonists. I can't truly say that I love He Was a Quiet Man just because it's such a dark, somber and somewhat confusing film, but I can say that I consider this to be a fantastic movie.

Slater plays Bob Maconel, a meek and generally submissive cubicle dweller with a real jerk of a boss who is constantly bullying and belittling him. It's pretty easy to see why Bob fantasizes about blowing up the building or making his tormentors pay dearly for their abusive attitudes and actions toward him. Unfortunately for Bob, fantasy and reality have started to bleed in to one another. When we first meet him, he is assigning targets for each bullet he loads into a handgun, then struggling to work up the courage to put his plans into action. On that occasion, though, the timing just isn't right, as he explains to his pet fish (with whom he has several conversations throughout the film) when he returns to his rather ramshackle home that night. This theme of living life in a fishbowl is further brought home by a lot of up-close-and-personal camera shots of Bob with a fishbowl-like lens and some great shots of Bob plodding along while everyone around him zooms along at a much faster pace.

The only small breath of fresh air in Bob's world of quiet desperation is co-worker Venessa Parks (Cuthbert). She is the only person who ever speaks to him without a trace of malice. A kind smile and a small comment here or there don't seem like much, but it means the world to Bob.

Then Bob's life changes dramatically, catapulting him from would-be mass murderer to hero. As he is loading his gun and once again trying to work up the courage to execute his own murderous plans, he drops the last bullet (the one meant for himself -- gotta love the symbolism) and while he is under his desk trying to retrieve it, the guy in the next cubicle steals his thunder, so to speak. After exchanging some "how did it feel?" notes with the guy, Bob acts to save the life of Venessa, becoming a hero in the process. All of the sudden, he is given a cushy vice president job upstairs, his former tormentors become all buddy-buddy with him and everyone is suddenly nice to him -- everyone but Venessa, whose life has undergone even more drastic changes than Bob's as a result of her injury. When she demands one favor from him, Bob feels he has no choice but to reluctantly agree. And so begins a journey of two lost souls depending upon one another for survival.

If you're expecting some kind of fairy-tale ending, you can forget about that right now. Don't expect the story to come wrapped up with a pretty little bow, either; in fact, don't even read too much into my limited plot summary. This is definitely one of those "what the --? So what the heck actually happened?" kinds of films -- except this film succeeds magnificently where so many others fall flat on their faces. Writer/director Frank A. Cappello has given us the most impressive and intelligent film I have come across in quite a while. There is symbolism buried all through the movie, all but begging viewers to watch the whole thing time and again. And guess what? The alternate ending included in the deleted scenes available on the DVD is, to my way of thinking, even more powerful and moving than the original ending -- and then you have the director's commentary to further satisfy your craving for additional insight. Two or three decades from now, He Was a Quiet Man is one of the films we'll point to when we say "they don't make 'em like this anymore."

review by
Daniel Jolley

9 October 2010

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