He Was a Quiet Man

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This review was written for the festival screening of "He Was a Quiet Man." 

AUSTIN -- A funny thing happened on the way to the office massacre. Or is it more tragic than funny? An on-the-brink cubicle drone has a hard time deciding this issue in "He Was a Quiet Man," a hard-to-classify excursion with marketable names but a look and tone that seems more suited for late-night cable than theatrical release.

Christian Slater stretches his acting muscles here, donning bad-skin makeup and thinned-out hair as a downtrodden schlub who fantasizes constantly about killing co-workers who demean him. Unfortunately, the character is introduced in a way that makes it impossible not to compare Slater's Bob to Milton, the Stephen Root character in "Office Space" -- unfortunate because while the film itself is ambivalent, Slater doesn't seem to think he's in a comedy.

We open with numerous peeks into Bob's active fantasy life -- his fish talk to him, he blows up the office on his lunch break -- so when something exciting actually happens to him, we keep waiting for the back-to-reality punch line: One day, as Bob is fondling the gun he hides in his desk and muttering about which bullet has whose name on it, a co-worker beats him to the punch, killing a few and wounding one woman before Bob, hoping to save the object of his office crush, puts five bullets in the gunman's chest.

The resulting hero's welcome stretches our suspension of disbelief. Bob is made vice president of "creative thinking," given a company Lexus and prime office and is pushed into the life of the beautiful girl he saved, Vanessa (Elisha Cuthbert). His new life is a yo-yo, though, where every silver lining hides a cloud: The new dream job involves picking up the boss' dry cleaning. The rescued damsel despises him for letting her survive as a quadriplegic. Vanessa does get over her grudge and decides to become Bob's girlfriend. Then he triggers a moment so traumatic that she moves a pinkie finger thought to be permanently dead.

The plot's extremes make for trying viewing, particularly as screenwriter-director Frank A. Cappello doesn't seem to care whether we buy them or not. (Bob's peak in his creative thinking duties? Putting a tiny water cooler by every phone so people will feel more free to speak their minds.) The exaggerated reality -- people either sneer at Bob or fawn over him, nothing in between -- is poorly suited to what sometimes seems the movie's goal of digging into the character's psyche. From the opening Travis Bickle-style voice-over to Slater's seriousness, we're encouraged to think about what makes a man crack. By the time the picture decides to wrap up unanswered questions for the viewer, many in the room will be too unengaged by the drama to care.

HE WAS A QUIET MAN
Quiet Man Prods.
Credits:
Director/screenwriter/co-producer: Frank A. Cappello
Producer: Michael Leahy
Executive producer: Jason Hallock
Director of photography: Brandon Trost
Production designer: Ermanno Di Febo-Orsini
Music: Jeff Beal
Costume designer: Sarah Trost
Editor: Kirk M. Morri
Cast:
Bob: Christian Slater
Vanessa: Elisha Cuthbert
Gene: William H. Macy
Paula: Sascha Knopf
Running time -- 99 minutes
No MPAA rating

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