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I just read through the reviews (9 as of this writing) and I find
reactions interesting yet predictable. Yes, we can talk about
performances- Pacino is "masterful"! Mirren is "pure class"! Yes, we
can talk about Mamet's writing style. I guess that, for me, these are
reviews seemingly by film students and not people who paid attention to
not the technical details but what the movie is about.
It is, in my mind, less about Phil Spector, and more about the legal system, about understanding society's inclination toward prejudging, presuming guilt, casting the first stone, and it's inability to distinguish between an eccentric and a psychotic.
As for the performances, did we suddenly expect poor acting from the talent of this cast? They're good actors and they delivered as expected. I don't think the reviews are helpful when they focus on such trivialities.
Anyway, I thought it was interesting, reflective... but not a "masterpiece". Absolutely recommended- I'd say 7 stars.
"This is a work of fiction. It's not 'based on a true story.' It is a
drama inspired by actual persons in a trial, but it is neither an
attempt to depict the actual persons, nor to comment upon on the trial
or its outcome." Above is the disclaimer that precedes David Mamet's
Phil Spector. If I didn't know what to think of a biopic on the extreme
eccentric character Spector was and remains, I really didn't know what
to think after seeing that. This is a film that is just as enigmatic as
its title figure, and earns its first strength by not judging,
objectifying, or even shortchanging him despite his conviction. To make
a biopic that lacks a viewpoint on its subject is a difficult, and
often rare thing to do, yet the closer I look, the more I feel that
Mamet made this film solely off of the fact that Spector is a
compelling and unique figure.
For those unaware, Phil Spector was a renowned record producer in the sixties and seventies, known for helping The Ronettes, John Lennon, and The Ramones achieve untold heights with their music. Spector, himself, achieved notoriety in the public eye for being a true force of energy and uncompromising in his pursuit for greatness with his artists. In 2003, a woman named Lana Clarkson was found dead in his mansion from a gunshot wound through her mouth. Spector was quoted that night saying, "I think I killed somebody," and has had a known history with threatening violence to his girlfriends. But Spector's defense team has fought day-in and day-out to prove that it would be impossible for him to have committed the murder, due to the lack of evidence on crucial pieces (IE: lack of blood on his jacket).
Mamet decides to set his sights on the events preceding the first trial and the events of it, with Al Pacino assuming the role of Spector and Helen Mirren embodying Linda Kenney Baden, his attorney. The first act of the film focuses on the interworkings of Spector's defense team, where we see Baden and Bruce Cutler (Jeffrey Tambor) try to enact a plan for going about Spector's impending trial. Only until about twenty-minutes in do we see Spector, who is portrayed as a ruthless, foul-mouthed, arrogant, frustrated time-bomb on the verge of an implosion due to media scrutiny and constant false allegations. The film's most powerhouse scene comes when we first meet Spector, and him and Baden have a long, fifteen minute monologue together in Spector's luxurious mansion. During the course of it, the dialog is fast-paced, always engaging, and buoyed greatly by two terrific performers.
Pacino and Mirren unsurprisingly carry the film to heights it may not have seen had lesser performers been placed in their roles. Think of the drudgery that would've taken place had those two cinematic greats been swapped for second/third-rate performers in their first moderately big film. I'm already a tad shocked that Phil Spector has been sidelined to primetime programming on HBO, when it clearly has the names to make it to the theaters (besides Pacino, Mirren, and Mamet, director Barry Levinson is credited as producer). But I suppose the real question is, would this film have made it out of the theaters with its budget and then some? Is this a story that could be universally appealing? My answer is no, because Phil Spector is not a perfect film and is story could be viewed as mundane with the abundance of other courtroom dramas. The trouble the film runs into the most is its length; it feels like Mamet was given a specific runtime before he even started shooting the film and couldn't make it any longer or shorter than ninety-five minutes. For this reason, some scenes (take the courtroom ones) feel short and undercooked, and the ending wraps everything up untidily after the first trial, which was declared a mistrial. With the wealth of information on only Spector's case, but the possibilities that could've resulted because of Spector's true enigma and personality as a whole, a whole hour could've been attached on to the ending. It seems silly to hire big names like Pacino, Mirren, Tambor, and Mamet for an ambitious project, but only utilize them for ninety-five minutes entirely.
Even though the picture remains unbiased, it is a relatively unsurprising fact that both sides of the Spector case have been able to get fired up about some element in the film. Clarkson's family feels that she was portrayed in an overly dramatic, unstable manner, while Spector defenders say that the "time-bomb" personality Pacino generates on screen isn't accurate at all. The way I see it, you can judge Mamet on the way he portrays the characters here, but you can't say he takes sides here. Both sides seem to have truths to them, and neither of them are given cold hard facts.
Mamet conducts the picture fluently and interestingly, even offering something of a commentary on the current state of our legal system and how we may have a problem at judging personality over person or something along those lines. Pacino's embodiment of Spector is wholly memorable, Mirren provides the picture with true elegance, and the supporting performances are forbidden to tread the line of unimportance. It's just a shame the scope wasn't broader, and the story more inclusive.
NOTE: Phil Spector will be playing on HBO for the remainder of March and April.
Starring: Al Pacino, Helen Mirren, Jeffrey Tambor, and Matt Molloy. Directed by: David Mamet.
Based on actual events that took place, PHIL SPECTOR dramatizes the
court-case in which the eponymous hero (Al Pacino) is accused of murder
and defended by hotshot lawyer Linda (Helen Mirren). With David Mamet
as writer/director, viewers can expect nothing less than a penetrating
character-study with the emphasis on great dialog and changing
reactions. PHIL SPECTOR does not disappoint in this respect; a study of
a once-great music producer fallen on hard times who (like Norma
Desmond in SUNSET BOULEVARD) lives in fantasy-worlds of his own
creation. The ever-increasingly grotesque choice of wigs Spector uses
is proof of this. Sometimes it's difficult to separate truth from
fiction, while listening to his lengthy speeches - which makes the
lawyer's task of defending him that much more difficult. In the end
Spector's pretensions are unmasked as he is literally brow-beaten into
making an appearance in court: Mamet's camera focuses unrelentingly on
his hands that shake uncontrollably as he listens to the evidence
presented against him.
As the lawyer, Mirren acts as a workmanlike foil to Pacino's central performance. Although firmly convinced of her client's innocence, she finds it increasingly difficult to present a convincing case; the judge and the prosecution seem hell-bent on frustrating her, as well as her client. Nonetheless she shows admirable stoicism in pursuing her case.
In the end, however, PHIL SPECTOR is not really a courtroom drama, even though much of the action is set in and around the court-house. Rather it concentrates on the double-edged nature of celebrity; when you're riding high, no one can touch you, but when you're down on your luck, everyone wants to kick you. This helps to explain Spector's retreat into a fantasy-world - at least no one can touch him there.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I don't know what the negative reviews were looking for, but this is
neither biopic nor docudrama. It's pure Mamet, for those who know what
Phil Specter is perhaps the most insightful and dramatic study of the Hollywood mind since Sunset Boulevard. Indeed, it's is a spot-on updating of the 1950 classic.
Phil Specter, the character, is Norma Desmond, the character: an archetype of what is called in Hollywood, "the talent". While "the talent" sow the profits, the packagers, promoters and distributors reap them. And when "the talent" no longer sow profits for the industry to reap, they become has-beens. Of course the talent also reap for themselves, but not always profits, for they can also reap the consequences of themselves as a career. The proof is in the converse, in the talent who have managed to separate themselves from the business of themselves. This is the talent that have stable marriages, long lives, stability and happiness, regardless of career arc.
"Hollywood" is a culture which, as you go east of Beverly Hills, becomes more sordid -- Laurel Canyon and then the Tenderloin of Hollywood proper. Specter, though he lived in suburban Alhambra, was of Laurel Canyon, a neighborhood favored by the rock music and porn crowd. Though Norma Desmond was of Beverly Hills, her taste and temperament were, like Specter's, luxurious yet tawdry, seemingly frozen in time, like Miss Haversham's wedding cake.
Like Norma Desmond, Phil Specter was "the talent" with a vengeance. Unfortunately, the egotistical and obnoxious temperament that often accompanies great talent persists after the talent fades. Al Pacino's twitching, bombastic delivery is a perfect rendition of an egomaniac, producing, directing and scripting his own reality, oblivious to the input from others.
Writer-director David Mamet specializes in one-on-one confrontation, and as the foil for Pacino's Specter, Helen Mirren, as Linda Baden, the lawyer who sticks, is also perfect. (The fact that her British slips through occasionally is quite trivial.) We see her disarmed, then despairing, as she is slowly worn down, first by Specter's mental bullying, then by pneumonia. She achieves our compassion but not pity. She is a strong, decent person whose legal fee amounts to combat pay.
Almost as entertaining as Specter and Baden is Baden and co-counsel Bruce Cutler, played flawlessly by Jeffrey Tambor. Most of their exchanges are like moot court, with Baden and Cutler trading devil's advocate.
I think the climactic scene is when, before a crucial trial appearance, Specter shows up having chosen, among his myriad toupees, an outrageous two-tone Afro. His response to the look of abject horror on his lawyer's face is, that everyone will understand it's a homage to Jimi Hendrix and not to worry, "I know about these things, they're my business," painfully unmindful of the fact that a trial court is NOT his business.
In the end, we are left with the realization, that the only one who knows for sure about Phil Specter's guilt is Phil Specter. The genius of this movie is that we are made to understand, almost completely outside the trial, that Phil Specter, innocent or guilty, was bound to be tried for being a malign freak on whom the public, without remorse -- after the frustration of seeing O.J., John Landis, Robert Blake and Michael Jackson beat the rap -- could finally hang the hat of guilt.
Pacino delivers another epic performance absolutely nailing Phil
Spector. Helen Mirren was great. David Mamet's writing and dialog are
Now, I don't know about the accuracy of the piece, but it is so powerfully convincing, I could believe it to be the truth. Whether or not was irrelevant to me as the film states upfront that it is not intended to be interpreted as an absolute representation of fact. I mean, the media is more propaganda than anything else, why would one 'expect' gospel truth from a movie?
With the predominance of Shlock in today's film world, I found this to be highly entertaining, I was completely absorbed and thoroughly enjoyed the ride it took me on.
This is a frustrating Made-for-TV-Movie. It is so short in length that
it leaves the viewer with a wanting for much more. There is so much
potential untapped power here. The magnetic lead Actors, the always
interesting and divisive Writer/Director David Mamet and of course, the
legendary Music Producer, Phil Spector.
His unique blending of multi-tracked Music into what became known as the "Wall of Sound" was so impressive and unusual that he attracted clients as diverse as The Ronnetts, The Rightheous Brothers, Tina Turner, The Beatles, and The Ramones to name a few. He was labeled a Boy Genius.
All this adulation made him into a neurotic, reclusive, abusive, megalomaniac, arrogant, show-off, but he also made the best and greatest Music that filled the much needed gap between Elvis and The Beatles with his rich and beautiful Pop Songs. He also had very few friends and quite a few jealous enemies. When asked if he liked People, he responded..."I don't know, I've never spent any time with them".
This is just a very short Movie about the weeks before the beginning of his first trial for murdering his Date. So the insights into Spector are crammed in here and what is here is interesting, but ultimately just some footnotes of a life. His guilt or not in this snapshot of the trial ordeal is fascinating. But considering all that could have been it cannot help but be nothing but a well done tempting tease.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Simple, low-budgety, but very realistic little docu-drama. Pacino really shines as Spector, and Helen Mirren is similarly good as defense attorney Linda Kelley Baden. Much of it consists of private conferences between Spector and Baden, as well as between Baden and her cohort attorneys. Though it shows nothing in the way of flashback to the alleged crime and little of the actual trial, PHIL SPECTOR is very revealing of the games and agendas that are so often involved in criminal prosecutions, especially when they are high in profile and/or involve celebrities. It's also a strong character study of a super-arrogant, often downright repellent man who possesses some nonetheless admirable qualities.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
While Al Pacino and Helen Mirren fully capture their roles in this 2013
film, I found the film lacking for several reasons. I think the film
ended too abruptly. They should have gone on to show the mistrial and
the second one which ultimately convicted Spector.
Pacino has the role down to a science as he always does. However, the writing had him rambling here and that would convince any jury of his guilt.
Did Mirren actually have pneumonia or was her illness more serious?
They should have also shown some scenes showing the victim Ms. Clarkson. Did she do herself in or did Spector really blow her away? This is a question that is left hanging.
Mirren seemed to be drawn to the role and by film's end has doubts whether or not Spector is guilty.
Legendary record producer Phil Spector (Al Pacino) is accused of
murdering Lana Clarkson. He insists that she killed herself. His
defense attorney Bruce Cutler (Jeffrey Tambor) hires consultant Linda
Kenney Baden (Helen Mirren) to help. The evidence is circumstantial but
the most damning is probably Spector himself.
With David Mamet, Al Pacino, and Helen Mirren, I had greater hopes. Sure it's just a TV movie but HBO likes to think of themselves as more than TV. It's mostly about the behind the scenes of the defense during the trial as they cobble the evidence together. Without both sides, the movie feels like it's missing something. Pacino is throwing a lot into his performance. Mirren is solid. The most interesting part for me is the opening text of NOT based on a true story. After that, some of the inside baseball looked interesting. The case isn't that complicated. I come away with the feeling that this is only the most superficial of a look inside of Spector's mind.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As a fan of David Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross, Hannibal, and The Verdict are among my favorite films) and Al Pacino, I was looking forward to watching Phil Spector. That said I came in with average expectations, and as a result I was pleasantly surprised. The film definitely has that classic Mamet spice, especially in the dialogue (of course), and this gives the storyline of a celebrity on trial a special twist. I also really appreciated the disclaimer at the beginning, which stated that though Phil Spector's trial did of course occur, most of the film was fictional. This allowed me to think about interesting cultural questions that the film aroused and not whether the 'inside baseball' dialogue was factual. These questions are to do with these high profile celebrity trials and how they should be handled. How do you try someone fairly if everyone in the nation has already heard of the trial and already determined the guilt or innocence of the accused? As Helen Mirren's character states "He (Phil Spector) is being tried for Michael Jackson and O.J. Simpson's crimes." The film's ending is fittingly unresolved, which leaves us to further contemplate these questions.
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