- Published on Amazon.com
Anamorph (Henry Miller, 2007)
The first review I saw after watching this movie started out with the sentence "this movie could have been so much better than it actually was." And I agreed with it, but then I started thinking: how many movies can you not say that about? I've seen thousands over the course of my life, and I can think of--maybe--half a dozen that would qualify. That said, I do totally get where that reviewer was coming from. This is a movie that had almost limitless potential, but got sidetracked by a few bad decisions along the way.
Plot: a serial killer is at work in the big city. Stan Aubray (The Boondock Saints' Willem Dafoe), who retired after the city's last big serial killer case, Uncle Eddie, is called in by his old boss (The Box's James Rebhorn, a fine actor we don't see on the screen nearly enough these days) thanks to some startling similarities to the Uncle Eddie slayings five years earlier. He finds himself teamed with impulsive go-getter Carl Uffner (The Strangers' Scott Speedman), who has a tendency to jump to conclusions, though he is about to get promoted to the same Detective First Class role Aubray has. (That Aubray also jumps to conclusions, and got his promotion by doing so, is understood.) The media and the police believe this new guy is a copycat killer, but the longer Aubray works the case, the more convinced he is that five years ago, they got the wrong man. And now Uncle Eddie is after Stan Aubray...
I've only begun to talk about the amazing cast that populates this film. Peter Stormare plays a shady art expert who helps Aubray with his investigation (as well as helps him acquire cut-rate antique furniture). Clea DuVall (Identity), who never became the household name she should have, is the best friend of Uncle Eddie's final murder victim, who has become friends with Aubray (they both want something more, but are far too damaged to ever act on it), while Debbie Harry (Videodrome) plays his downstairs neighbor, who may also have designs on him.
On the other hand, there's Scott Speedman, and the more I see Scott Speedman, the more I think he's the go-to guy for casting agents when the director says "get me Ryan Reynolds" and Mr. Reynolds is not available. Not that Ryan Reynolds is any great shakes as an actor (the both of them are blown away by the similarly-profiled Joshua Jackson), but he's head and shoulders over Speedman. That was the bad casting decision. Flipping things around, I'm not sure Miller, who also wrote the screenplay, was the right choice for a director here. I haven't seen any of his other stuff, so can't comment as to thematics vis-a-vis his directorial style, but I got the feeling that another director could have done this complex script more justice than Miller did. David Fincher, maybe? And no, I didn't pull that name out of my hat; Anamorph is a movie that wears its love for Se7en firmly on its sleeve. I don't necessarily see that as a bad thing, given that Se7en is one of the greatest not-so-buddy-cop movies ever made, but there are bits and pieces where this movie looked as if it had been assembled from cutting-room floor bits of Se7en with added footage. There's a line between homage and rip-off, as we are constantly told. It's not all that fine a line, in most cases. To keep one foot on either side of it requires either amazing dexterity or amazing incompetence. As with Brian DePalma's Blowout, I could never quite tell whether Miller was keeping his balance.
All that said, I think the reception this film got blows goat. It played on one screen, for three weeks, and one of those weekends grossed $239, according to IMDB. This is a far, far better movie than those numbers would indicate. Whether it's overly complex or simply sloppy is subject to debate (I think the former), but the fact that people will debate it on the Internet for months is a solid indicator that whether people liked the film or not, they were still thinking about it. ***