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Film Review: Brief Interviews With Hideous Men

Benjamin Walker
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PARK CITY -- "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men" is one hell of a date movie. A surgical examination of the male psyche based on David Foster Wallace's book and written and directed by John Krasinski, there is plenty of food for thought and argument. A savvy distributor could stir up enough controversy for a select theatrical run before the film settles into a healthy ancillary afterlife.

Not since "In the Company of Men" has the male gender been so ruthlessly portrayed on screen. Taking Wallace's chapter-by-chapter interviews and cutting them into interwoven fragments, Krasinski (best known for his role in NBC's "The Office") has managed to create an unconventional narrative flow. Ingeniously structured and beautifully acted, the film at times is a bit clinical but never less than compelling.

Krasinski has added a female character, an academic played by Julianne Nicholson, who interviews a cross-section of men about their relationships with women. Most of them don't have a clue, but their deceit and manipulation are so clever and deep-seated it's like watching a car wreck on the side of the road: You can't take your eyes off of it.

It's somewhat simplistic to say that all men are this terrible, but it makes for better storytelling. The interviews start on a lighthearted note and progress to some nasty revelations about what men are really capable of. Sometimes the interviewees appear in an antiseptic room talking into a microphone, and sometimes the events they're describing are dramatized.

There's all sorts of crazy stuff, like the guy who for some unknown reason is compelled to shout "victory for the forces of democratic freedom" just before he has an orgasm. Or the one who breaks up with five different women with the same line.

Then things start to get darker. Bobby Cannavale plays a man with one arm who knows how to use his affliction for sympathy and then close in for the kill. On another occasion, Sara (Nicholson) overhears brash businessman Christopher Meloni describing to his friend Denis O'Hare what happened when he hooked up with a despondent woman abandoned by her boyfriend at the airport.

An inspired set piece has Frankie Faison visiting the men's room where his father made a career out of servicing the needs of white men, and explaining how the disgust he felt about his father informed his whole being.

The actors all work at a high level, and their monologues using Wallace's precise language literally feels like a class in acting. Timothy Hutton is suitably smarmy as Sara's professor, but Krasinski turns in the most devastating performance to climax the film. He's Sara's ex-boyfriend and her intellectual equal who fashions an elaborate rationale for why he cheated on her with a woman for which he had nothing but contempt. It's a chilling moment to which Sara responds with icy silence.

For the most part, the film is more cerebral than emotional, and the denseness of the material makes the brief 72-minute running time feel like more than enough. Editor Rich Fox has done a splendid job giving momentum to a story that could have been shapeless, and John Bailey's photography puts the action in sharp focus, the better to see the deeds done.

Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Jason Kempin/Getty Images

Production: Salty Features
Cast: Julianne Nicholson, Ben Shenkman, Timothy Hutton, Michael Cerveris, Corey Stoll, Chris Messina, Max Minghella, Lou Taylor Pucci, Will Arnett, John Krasinski, Will Forte, Joey Slotnick, Clarke Peters, Dominic Cooper, Ben Gibbard, Bobby Cannavale, Christopher Meloni, Denis O'Hare, Josh Charles, Frankie Faison, Malcolm Goodwin
Director-screenwriter: John Krasinski
Based on the book by: David Foster Wallace
Producers: Eva Kolodner, Yael Melamede, James Suskin, John Krasinski
Executive producer: Kevin Connors
Director of photography: John Bailey
Music: Jon Brion
Production designer: Stephen Beatrice
Costume designer: Vicki Farrell
Editor: Rich Fox
Sales agent: Micah Green, CAA
No rating, 72 minutes