Director: Simon Kaijser
Cast: Guy Pearce, Minnie Driver, Pierce Brosnan, Alexandra Shipp, Jamie Kennedy, Clark Gregg, Odeya Rush
MPAA Rating: (for language including sexual references)
Running Time: 1:40
Release Date: 4/6/18 (limited)
Review by Mark Dujsik | April 5, 2018
Spinning Man 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 movie isn't quite a thriller, either. At the story's center, it may have an accused man, who constantly rejects the accusations of his involvement in the girl's disappearance and possible murder, but the screenplay by Matthew Aldrich (based on George Harrar's book) 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.
This is, admittedly, the entire point of director Simon Kaijser's movie, which—appropriately enough, given the title—spins its wheels about Evan Birch's (Guy Pearce) innocence or guilt. The story is almost an existential pondering on the nature of truth, namely if the human mind is capable of comprehending the concept of objective truth. The other option, as the main character seems to believe, is that the mental faculties of we mere mortals are too flawed to see anything beyond our subjective experience of reality.
In theory, this is heavy stuff, and considering how many loops Evan makes in his attempts to remember whether or not he murdered a high school cheerleader, it could be almost comical. One would imagine that killing another human being would be a memorable life event. Evan is so stuck in his philosophical musings that he convinces himself that the absence of a memory of killing a girl is somehow evidence that he might have done the foul deed. Maybe it's that, or maybe it's that he's hoping that a lot of philosophical gymnastics will confound the cops investigating the girl's disappearance. Perhaps, he simply possesses some mental condition that makes him forget things.
If all of this sounds confusing and esoteric, then it has achieved the goal of accurately representing the experience of watching the movie. This is rather confusing, as Kaijser plays these esoteric themes about truth, memory, reality, and deception as if they were simply the ordinary components of a regular, old mystery and/or thriller. It begins with Evan, a philosophy professor at a local college, with fairly ordinary concerns. His class isn't popular. He lives a fairly boring life with his wife Ellen (Minnie Driver) and their young daughter. Anna (Alexandra Shipp), one of his students, wants to talk with him about his book over coffee. He insists that she come to his office instead.
Meanwhile, a local girl named Joyce (Odeya Rush) has gone missing. The investigation is being led by Detective Malloy (Pierce Brosnan), who sees no signs of foul play but isn't going to risk anything by assuming she ran away. Evan comes under scrutiny, because some people remember seeing him with the missing girl, and after he refuses the police to search his car, he's brought in for questioning.
Evan is, to put it in understated terms, unreliable as a person of interest in the case, a teacher, a husband, a father, a protagonist, and, well, a man. We learn enough to know that he is a liar and to suspect that his falsehoods could extend to his participation in a crime. He and his family moved after some alleged, untoward behavior with a student at another university. Evan insists that nothing happened, but it turns out that something did happen last semester between him and Anna. He has kept this from his wife, who doesn't trust him for obvious reasons. There's also an elaborately established accident involving some oversized mousetraps and his daughter's pet rabbit, which makes us think that, if he could and would cover up the death of a bunny, he might be capable of covering up another, more consequential death.
Some of this comes across as silly, and all of it comes across as rather callous toward the disappearance and possible death of the teenager, who appears in a series of flashbacks that exist only to reinforce our consideration that Evan might have been involved. 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.
In a different version of this material—one that plays looser with the thriller angle and acknowledges the absurdity of the character's nature—Evan might have worked as more than an intriguing idea. Within the formal structure and oppressive tone of Spinning Man, though, his flailing mind, his inability to understand the basics of the world, and his generally unlikeable nature seem out of place.
Copyright © 2018 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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