I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

He Was a Quiet Man

tn_hewasaquietmanI laughed the first time I saw this DVD cover, Christian Slater with a combover and nerd glasses beneath that title, and clutching a bunch of dynamite. But I thought it was a serious movie. It turns out it’s a bit of a dark comedy and since it’s the only other movie from Frank Cappello, director of AMERICAN YAKUZA and NO WAY BACK, I decided to give it a shot.

The feel is very showed-a-couple-times-at-a-film-festival-somewhere, complete with low budget CGI, still-learning-supporting-actors and William H. Macy as the boss. But for what it is it’s pretty good.

Slater plays an ominously narrating fed up office drone who loads the gun in his desk and tells us who each bullet is meant for. But he decides today is not the day to go postal – timing is important. When he gets home his goldfish (a CGI cartoon like the one in the CAT IN THE HAT movie) scolds him for pussying out. “If I’d gone through with it nobody would be here to feed you,” he says, but the fish isn’t convinced. “I don’t care as long as the bastards are dead!” This is definitely one of the bitterest CGI animals outside of, obviously, Garfield.

mp_hewasaquietmanThe next day the timing does seem right. His douchebag superior is treating him like shit so he loads the gun… but accidentally drops one of the bullets on the floor. On his knees trying to pick it up he suddenly hears gunfire… turns out one of his co-workers beat him to the punch. He has a conversation with the early bird gunman and ends up having to shoot  him. That makes him a hero and gets him promoted to the top floor as VP of Creative Thinking. Maybe life isn’t so bad after all.

The movie ends up being about his relationship with Macy’s former assistant, who was paralyzed in the massacre. I didn’t recognize her as Elisha Cuthbert from ’24’ because she’s brunette and better than usual. She has trouble adjusting and he helps her, finding new happiness but also new things to be paranoid about (what if she wasn’t in a wheelchair? Would she even give me the time of day?) He has to try to hold onto this new happiness and hope nobody figures out that he’s crazy. I think their relationship is interesting – sweet despite underlying creepiness, kind of hot despite being between a balding Slater and a quadriplegic Cuthbert. And they’re both really good in it. When he starts to lose it and she tries to talk him down there’s a sense of an actual good relationship there. I really thought she could fix him.

SPOILER PARAGRAPH: But I felt let down by the ending. If I understood it correctly, all this craziness was a fantasy he had in those moments before picking up the sixth bullet. There was no second gunman, no love affair, no promotion. I think that’s bad storytelling, because the idea of a story is to show you something unusual. Those things are interesting because of their far-fetchedness. If you’re gonna get my interest for 90 minutes and then say, “No no, just kidding, actually some more normal stuff happened” I’m gonna feel let down. A twist has to be something more crazy than what happened pre-twist, it cannot be less crazy, that doesn’t work. It’s like having a dry dinner roll right after birthday cake.

Still, I recommend this one. It’s full of things I’ve never seen before, and I like that. It’s not that well-tread of a formula, and I like that it goes for emotions before laughs. It walks a delicate balance of making you sympathize with this guy and also fear what he might do. Come on dude, you’re in love. Don’t kill anybody.

Note: not connected to THE QUIET MAN starring John Wayne. Except in the sense that both are movies that exist

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 10th, 2010 at 4:24 am and is filed under Comedy/Laffs, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

24 Responses to “He Was a Quiet Man”

  1. Thank you for giving away the ending. Because the film seems good, but if I had seen that ending without knowing about it, I suspect I might suddenly have felt a bit inspired by the main character.

  2. Has nothing really to do with the movie, but I recently wondered why Slater was only in two episodes of The W…no, not The Wire, The West Wing, although his character seemed to be somewhat important. But suddenly Slater disappears and his character is only be mentioned for several episodes. (“Donna has a date with him.” “The President gave him a special order.” “He is in his office.”) Even if it would have been an unknown actor, it would have pissed me off.

  3. Is there any twist worse then “It was all a dream?” Honestly, ending a movie that way is the biggest fuuck you to an audience possible.

  4. I completely agree about the ending. It’s pretty fucking weak. What pissed me off about it was that had the ending been as good as the rest of the movie it could have been a great movie. As it is now, it’s just pretty good.

    However, it’s hard for me to stay mad at any movie that has a karaoke scene.

  5. “No no, just kidding, actually some more normal stuff happened.”

    That’s my biggest complaint about de Palma’s FEMME FATALE as well. I don’t object to a film veering off into a fantasy, but if it’s not executed with the skill of a film like LEOLO or MULHOLLAND DRIVE, it seems like a gimmick.

  6. Jareth – Gimmick sure but man even the twist in itself in FEMME FATALE is wacky DePalmanian. I mean give the guy credit for credit in how he serves his cliche.

  7. ASIAN karaoke!!! Even better. I love you, edc.

    Now hopefully I can actually find this movie somewhere.

  8. The ending sorta sounds like Ambrose Bierce’s story “An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge” where the confederate soldier, as the story opens, is being hanged over a bridge. However, the rope breaks and he escapes down river, has some adventures, meets up with his woman, and so on. Things are looking pretty good. Only (MAJOR SPOILER), turns out this shit was all a fantasy, he flashes back to reality just as the noose snaps his neck.

    Also, Brazil.

  9. RRA: I really tried to enjoy FEMME FATALE on a campy level. Honest I did. Maybe if it was willing to meet me half way, like BODY DOUBLE, it wouldn’t have bothered so much. You expect a degree of trash from de Palma. FEMME FATALE just seemed lazy to me.

  10. Brian: Also, (SPOILER) JACOB’S LADDER. Also, BOXING HELENA. Also, about a dozen other crappy movies. Lazy, lazy, lazy screenwriting. Can’t think of an ending? Pull out the douche ex machina.

  11. Yeah, I think it works in Brazil because it’s only the last part that was all a fantasy. I’ll give the Bierce story the benefit of the doubt since it was written during the last part of the 19th century and probably seemed fresh at the time. Also, it’s a short story so you don’t get pissed for having wasted hours of your time.

  12. An Occurence at Owl Creek is like 5 pages long, and with Brazil the ending doesn’t negate every character, event, emotion, action that you invested a couple hours of your life into, it just places a dark as hell cap on it.

  13. Time Bandits’ ending also had a feeling of “it was all a dream”…but also not.

  14. I really don’t think it’s fair to talk shit about Jacob’s Ladder.

  15. Raising Cain needs a mention for having about 15 ‘whoa, it was all a dream’ bits dotted throughout the film. And then the nutso ending isn’t a dream.

  16. The Tales From The Crypt episode with John Stamos, Robert Picardo and Frank Stallone has the same Person-is-about-to-die-then-gets-rescued-lives-a-happy-life-but-then-it-turns-out-everything-was-a-dream-structure as Owl Creek Bridge.
    Hey, I got to mention Tales From The Crypt here twice in a week!
    And thanks for spoiling the ending for me inthe comment section, although I avoided to read it in the review. >:(

  17. The real surprise of this movie was Christian Slater. You know, when he stops aping Jack Nicholson, he’s a pretty great actor. I kinda wish he would take a cue from this movie and do more quirky character roles.

  18. caruso_stalker217

    February 10th, 2010 at 4:02 pm

    Yeah, I wouldn’t count JACOB’S LADDER as an “it was all a dream” type movie. There are clues throughout the whole thing, so it’s not like they’re just jerking you off.

  19. I’m not sure rainmain was lumping Jacobs Ladder in with crappy movies. If so thats cool but I love that movie. I also love De Palma but I think the ending works better in Body Double than in Femme Fatale. Both have great filmmaking before them though.

  20. It was pretty funny in “A Serious Man” when (SPOILER) you think the movie’s about to end like “The Shawshank Redemption” or something and then…BLAM! Nope. (END SPOILER)

    I would never try to convince somebody to like a movie that they don’t like, but, I thought what was genuinely clever about the twist in “Femme Fatale” is the redemptive effect it it had on the main character. To me, that elevated the movie beyond cold-blooded game-playing and made it something more. (I felt the same way about the insanely-predictable twist in Ridley Scott’s under-rated “Matchstick Men”.)

  21. Yeah FEMME FATALE was nutty all the way through. I mean how can you hate that movie with that lesbian seduction in the bathroom? I mean you’re legally not allowed.

    Plus DePalma hasn’t exactly done anything that good since then. Man the right-wingers gave REDACTED much more press than that floater deserved. Thanks for the free press.

    JACOB’S LADDER, yeah people get hanged up on the ending. But the point of that movie isn’t the destination, but the journey. Which maybe is why its so good.

  22. Total Recall: best overall use of “It’s just a dream” trope? Discuss!

  23. SPOILERS ABOUT SEVERAL MOVIES INCLUDING THIS ONE BELOW!

    I don’t mind a good “it was a all a dream” ending, but there has to be a reason for it. The dream needs to tell us something about something, not just be a twist. If there’s just a bunch of plot which gets nullified at the end, why the hell did you show it to us?

    Beirce’s “Occurrance at Owl Creek Bridge”, JACOB’S LADDER, and BRAZIL all use their plots to suggest something about the state of a person’s mind at moments of extreme horror. And though they all use the same story mechanism, they all actually have radically different things to say about what the mind is doing and whether or not it’s a good thing.

    Other films, though, use the ‘it was all a dream’ as just a dumb twist. It’s also worth noting that all of those films create a surreal, dreamlike atmosphere of heightened intensity and weird touches, which are explained by the fact that its not literally happening. Just going on with a literal plot once the dream has started seems like a pretty big cop-out. It’s possible to have really literal dreams, but pretty rare. Also, any movie like that that has scenes from other character’s perspectives, or subplots which don’t involve the dreamer, I call bullshit on.

    SPOILERS ABOUT SEVERAL MOVIES INCLUDING THIS ONE, ALSO JACOB’S LADDER, BRAZIL, and an Ambrose Bierce short story ABOVE

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