'Spinning Man': Film Review

Fine performances can't save this formulaic suspenser.

Guy Pearce, Pierce Brosnan and Minnie Driver star in Simon Kaijser's thriller about a university professor suspected of being involved in the disappearance of a young girl.

"Do you have trouble remembering things sometimes?" Guy Pearce's character asks early on in Simon Kaijser's murder mystery. For Pearce, the line must have had emotional resonance, considering that it calls to mind one of his very best movies, Memento. Unfortunately, Spinning Man, based on the acclaimed novel by George Harrar, doesn't benefit from the comparison. Although it pretends to traffic in such weighty themes as how memories can be either real or imagined, the plodding thriller mainly spins its own wheels until reaching a baffling conclusion. Only the talents of its estimable cast, also including Pierce Brosnan and Minnie Driver, manage to make it worth checking out.

Pearce plays Evan Birch, a university philosophy professor (a profession seen far more often in movies than real life) who becomes the chief suspect in the disappearance of a high school girl (Odeya Rush) at a local lake. Evan has some baggage from his past in this regard, having had to leave his last teaching job several years earlier after a dalliance with one of his students.

Evan drives a gray Volvo, the same type of car that was spotted at the scene, so he receives a routine visit from Malloy (Brosnan), the detective investigating the case. Malloy's suspicions become raised when Evan becomes belligerent, refusing to let him and his partner examine the inside of the car unless they have a warrant. When further evidence comes to light indicating that Evan was at the lake around the time the girl went missing, his car is impounded by the police.

The inevitable cat-and-mouse game between the detective and his quarry ensues, even though Malloy seems strangely sympathetic to Evan's plight as they engage in erudite philosophical discussions. Evan, meanwhile, finds himself struggling with his less than innocent feelings toward nubile younger woman, including a hardware store clerk about whom he fantasizes and a student (Alexandra Shipp, recently seen in Love, Simon) whose invitations for coffee he keeps dodging. Hints are provided about the latter, indicating that she and Evan have had some previous encounters that were about something more than a professor/student relationship.

Meanwhile, Evan's long-suffering wife Ellen (Driver, excellent as usual) becomes increasingly suspicious of her husband herself, especially when their young daughter finds a lipstick container in the back of his car. Both she and Evan's newly hired lawyer (Clark Gregg, playing the sort of hard-boiled role at which he excels) find his evasiveness and hostility toward the police a matter of growing concern.

Clearly attempting to be more serious-minded than your standard suspenser, Spinning Man lacks the coherence both to make its intellectual themes fully resonate and its mystery remotely satisfying. Toward the end of the film, Evan walks into Malloy's office late one night to confess, but that only leads to further contrived plot machinations which prove unsatisfying. That is, if you can even make sense of them.

It's a shame, because the film's premise certainly held the promise of being intriguing. The screenplay by Matthew Aldrich (Disney's Coco) works best not in its melodramatic or soap-operish aspects but rather the quiet encounters between cop and suspect in which both men's keen intelligence is on ample display. Pearce delivers a performance of admirable intensity, while Brosnan smartly underplays, keeping us guessing about Malloy's true feelings. The two actors' fine work holds our interest to the end, which is more than can be said of the convoluted storyline.

Production companies: Grindstone Entertainment Group, VX119, Film Bridge International
Distributor: Lionsgate Premiere
Cast: Guy Pierce, Pierce Brosnan, Minnie Driver, Alexandra Shipp, Odeya Rush, Jamie Kennedy, Clark Gregg, Sean Blakemore, Eliza Pryor, Noah Salisbury Lipton
Director: Simon Kaijser
Screenwriter: Matthew Aldrich
Producers: Keith Arnold, Ellen Wander
Executive producers: Jeff Geoffray, Jeffrey Konvitz, Daniel Rainey, Robert Ballo, Michael Covell, Fredrik Zander, Alix Madigan-Yorkin, Chris Tricario, Barry Brooker, Stan Wertlieb
Director of photography: Polly Morgan
Production designer: Matthew Gant
Composer: Jean-Paul Wall
Costume designer: Roger J. Forker
Casting: Roger Mussenden

Rated R, 100 minutes