Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Mora Stephens' ZIPPER gives Patrick Wilson another plum role in a poorly-marketed movie

Let's once again sing the praises of Patrick Wilson. This under-appreciated actor labors consistently in film and television, in projects that are very good yet often quirky enough to end up under-seen. Moving quickly and gracefully from award-winning work in legitimate theater to one of the lead roles in the Mike Nichols-directed Angels in America for HBO, Wilson soon became a staple in the stable of highly accom-plished movie and TV actors.

Wilson, shown above at left and below, has appeared in some of my favorite films -- check out his work in The Ledge or Stretch for a sample of his versa-tility and how he can use his charisma in both major and understated ways -- and now he appears in one of those little movies that, in its way, is as much of a character study as is the subject of yesterday's post, Mangle-horn. Yet, the film is receiving one of the stupidest marketing campaigns ever to sink a Blu-ray/DVD release.

The quote featured on the cover art calls ZIPPER "this year's Gone Girl." Hello? Because the two movies have nothing at all to do with each other, this sets up the viewer for an expectation that can never be met. On the back of the box, from the same critic, is plastered, "The grown -up thriller of  the year," although the film is not a thriller at all. There's barely a thrill in it (though it contains one very well-executed sequence of suspense), nor, I suspect, was it the intention of co-writer (with Joel Viertel) and director, Mora Stephens, to give it many "thrills." This kind of marketing assures that the movie will be perceived as worse than it is by setting up certain expectations and then consistently trouncing them.

Ms. Stephens's story (the filmmaker is shown at right) and the manner in which she presents it, make it clear that she's most interested in the character of the man Mr. Wilson portrays. Sam Ellis is a high-level federal prosecutor whose addiction to pornography moves into the area of escort services. And if you pooh-pooh this as simply unbelievable that a family man and successful public figure would endanger his career in this way, I offer you but two words: Eliot Spitzer.  Or two more: Anthony Weiner. Or even two more: Ashley Madison. So much for the movie's premise being suspect.

I began this film not knowing who had directed it. I just shoved the disc into my Blu-ray and began watching. Around halfway along I found myself wondering if it was not directed by a woman because the sympathy of the filmmaker seemed to be much more all-inclusive than in most male-directed movies I've seen. And the main interest of the writer/director appeared to be on how and why our "hero" keeps doing what he's doing.

Wilson does a bang-up job of showing us his family-man side (above),along with his confused, addicted, turned-on outer self and turned-off inner self -- never more so than in one scene that takes place in a car in a parking garage with one of his escorts (a fine job by Penelope Mitchell), during which Wilson's character goes from A to B to C (well, it's more like A to F to Z) in a single amazingly rich and disturbing scene that underscores just how strong an obsession it is that has this man in thrall.

In the supporting cast, strong performances are given by Lena Headey (above and above) as Sam's wife (there's one scene here in which you'll peg this couple as just a few steps away from the one in the American version of House of Cards);

by Ray Winstone, as a noted political journalist; and by Richard Dreyfuss (shown below) as a political king-maker and Dianna Agron (above, right) as one of those nubile and upwardly mobile interns. The political and moral machinations here are nothing new, but the interesting viewpoint Stephens brings, and the depth given by Wilson help the movie resonate.

Zipper is certainly not a great film by any means. But it is much better than you'll have heard. Just don't expect thrills and some Gone Girl scenario. It's out now on Blu-ray and DVD -- from Alchemy and running 112 minutes.

Photos above are from the film itself, with the 
exception of that of the director (by Hilary Bronwyn Gayle) 
and the initial photo of Mr. Wilson (by George Pimentel, 
courtesy of Getty Images).

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