This New Crime Thriller Doesn’t Manage to Get Up to Speed.
Directed by Simon Kaijser / 2018
In what sense is our title character ‘spinning?’ Is he spinning because his world has turned upside down and he’s in a state of free-fall- or is he spinning in the sense of providing a biased interpretation of events in order to persuade opinion? Spinning Man belongs to the genre of thrillers about men who have been (maybe wrongly?) accused of murder. Unfortunately, Spinning Man doesn’t have the lurid pulp sensibilities of a film like 1990’s Presumed Innocent, nor the layers found in one like the more recent Gone Girl, to name two other examples of the type. It’s preoccupation with the philosophy of truth and memory and the stories we tell ourselves feels like a way for the moviemakers to convince themselves they have a movie with deep, deep thoughts, but Spinning Man never quite manages to coalesce into a compelling thriller.
Spinning Man never quite manages to coalesce into a compelling thriller
Guy Pearce (Memento, LA Confidential) plays Evan Birch, a doctor of philosophy who may or may not have something to do with the disappearance of a local seventeen-year-old girl (Odeya Rush, Ladybird). Birch has a history of getting sexually involved with his students, and for Detective Malloy (Pierce Brosnan, best known for his work in the James Bond franchise) it looks for all the world like this time, things took a turn to the tragic. Birch’s wife, Ellen (Minnie Driver, Good Will Hunting), stands by her husband’s innocence, but she also knows his history- better than even Birch does at that- and soon finds herself wondering just what he could be capable of.
It doesn’t help Birch’s case that he’s the very model of the unreliable narrator. “Your absent-minded professor routine used to be charming,” Ellen tells him at one point. But now his poor memory, coupled with his philosophic beliefs that one can never truly know the truth of anything with any kind of certainty makes Birch seem all the more guilty in Malloy’s eyes. When Birch answers a question with “It’s possible she may have been in my car at one time,” what’s a cop going to make of that?
Pearce does a fine job acting as a man who maybe didn’t commit murder, but probably could under the right circumstances. It’s a fine tightrope act to pull off, especially if you want to keep the audience on your side at least until the final reveal. He’s cagey when asked questions, ambiguous when the police want clarification and downright hostile when they ask to search his car.
Brosnan’s turn as Malloy is appropriately quiet and world-weary. He’s a decent man who’s perhaps seen too much in his years on the force. He’s coping with alcohol addiction and has family problems of his own that the film only hints at. “What we do is a lot alike” Malloy tells Birch. They both seek out the truth, but while Birch searches for truth in language, Malloy looks for it in timetables, hair samples, and other physical evidence.
Spinning Man isn’t a badly made movie. It’s shot well (although the color grading really leans hard on those green tones- it’s a very green movie), the editing is unobtrusive, the actors all do a fine job (a special shout out to Clark Gregg, who shows up as Birch’s lawyer). It just doesn’t add up to anything more than the sum of its perfectly fine parts. It wants to paint a deeper picture with all of its talk on language and larger philosophical truths, but it doesn’t get any farther than a Freshman-level intro course.