He Was A Quiet Man
There was a time when you could gauge the potential for danger a location held. You knew that if you walked through the park at night you might get mugged. Going into the wrong neighborhoods had a better than average chance of resulting in bodily harm. Some places always seemed safe from life threatening violence. Among these was your place of business, school and government offices. Well, unless you have been living in an underground bunker for the last few years you will associate all of the above with acts of terrible, fatal violence. No matter how the security is increased no place is truly safe from a determined yet disturbed person out to do harm to others. Since the art of cinema has always been responsive to the pervading fears of the public many movies have been released concerned with the problem of the disgruntled individual. As so often happens with a genre made popular by the news the stories rapidly degenerate into a very predicable formula. Fortunately for movie fans one film has broken away from the pack and dared to give a different slant on the topic. ‘He Was A Quite Man’ written and directed by Frank A. Cappello is a dark comedy that takes the genre and adds a novel twist. While the film does have its flaws, especially in the third act, it generally holds together.
The film was done on a shoestring budget that consisted of some credit cards and an over used line of credit. Thankfully many mainstream actors now have a two tier approach to their salaries and are willing to take on an independent film for a fraction of what they can get for a studio driven film. Films like this depend on talent not special effects and budgets that could rival the gross national product of a small nation. This film is somewhat uneven but much of that perspective could be due to the themes presented in the movie. You can not do a film about a deeply disturbed man and not be uneven. The life you are presenting is far from being on a steady keel. The film also tackles serious problems in a darkly comic approach. When you are playing things like murder, suicide and the right to life with a humorous slant the odds are against you from the start. The fact that this movie works as well as it does is a testament to the incredible talent of the cast and crew. Life has flaws so do your best to forgive and forget here. The result will be a film that will entertain you and make you think.
Bob Maconel (Christian Slater) is a white collar worker for a tech firm located in Los Angels. He has a cubical and the same basic work day after endless day; he is an office drone and knows it. Things have been building up with Bob for years. Frustrated at the bosses and hating the corporate players getting the promotions he knew he deserved. One day Bob comes to a decision that he has had enough. Hidden by the cubical walls, hands under his desk he loads a revolver, determined to go out of this life after taking a few of his co-workers with him. At the last minute he relents and empties the bullets into his desk draw. At home his neighbor complains that his yard needs to be done. Everyone has work for Bob. When he goes to the fridge for a cold drink his note is hanging on the door simply stating "you may ask why I did what I did, but what choice did you give me?" He never intended to come back home that day or ever. Once again Bob is a failure. Back at work he is just about to go to lunch when his mean spirited, younger boss moves up a deadline. Once again he goes to his gun and begins to load it. He can’t even do that right, a bullet drops and rolls away. While he is under his desk looking for it shots ring out. Another worker has gone postal and is shooting the place up. From his vantage point under the desk he watches as his co-workers fall dead around him. He gets up and calmly talks to the shooter, Ralf Coleman (David Wells). They look over to see one young woman, Vanessa (Elisha Cuthbert) still alive. As the shooter takes aim to ‘put her out of her misery’. The shooter turns to Bob and Bob shoots him through the cubical wall. Vanessa is seriously injured but still alive. That night the television news reports talk to Coleman’s neighbors who describe him as a quite, nice sort of man. Bob is hailed as a hero. As the reports descend on Bob Vanessa is in surgery. All of a sudden Bob’s neighbor is nice to him even inviting him to Christmas dinner. At work he is promoted to Vice President of Creative Thinking. He gets a nice office with a window on a higher floor and a company car but he is still little more than a gopher for the boss, Gene Shelby (William H. Macy). He goes to the hospital to visit Vanessa. The gunshots have left her as a quadaplegic. She is so despondent that she wants to talk her own life. For that she will need Bob’s help. Vanessa wants to wheel herself in front of a train but at the last minute Bob talks her out of it. The two begin to see each other and soon a relationship begins to form.
In one way this film is a twisted combination of ‘Whose Life is It Anyway’ and ‘Falling Down’. It is also very much in the tradition of the ground breaking classic dark comedy, ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’. Most of the best dark comedies force us to laugh at subjects that no one in their right mind would think are funny. This is the case here. Workplace violence is a serious problem. A person’s right to live or die is controversial and heavily under debate. Cappello handles this nearly impossible task with humor but also sensitivity. He never makes light of the situations or topics. His comedy comes from the all too human reactions to these tragic events. There is nothing funny about a young woman in the prime of her life facing an existence completely dependent on others. The humor is achieved by taking the situation to the extreme and having her fall in love with the man who was moments from shooting up the office himself. This is also the strange place that Cappello places the lamentable Bob. He had that gun in his hand because he felt life was hopeless and without meaning. Now because of that he has someone to care for and who cares about him. Things fall apart somewhat at the end as Cappello finds himself juggling too many loose ends. Overall this is a keeper though.
Not only are the main actors in this film bigger than the budget would normally allow the two leads are almost unrecognizable. Christian Slater had his head shaved back and wore a set of false teeth in order to make himself into this milquetoast of a man. He doesn’t have to do much to establish his character. Most of us know the futility of a mindless job even though we never considered the action Bob was about to take. Slater has the difficult task of making not only making the audience identify with Bob but to extend their collective empathy to him. He does this quietly, without flair or unnatural affectations. This is one of the best roles he has taken on. Elisha Cuthbert is best known for roles where she is cast as the sexy, blond bombshell. Here she sports mousy brown hair and most of her scenes require her to not use her body at all. For those that may doubt her abilities based on the physically attractive parts she has had you will be amazed at how well this young woman can act. She has to emote completely through facial expressions and the tone of her voice. Sexy is fleeting in Hollywood. There is always a younger, prettier actress ready to move in. This role demonstrates that Ms. Cuthbert has the acting talent to last. Casting directors please take note of her in this role and give her more parts where this talent can be explored and nurtured. No one does the stuffy boss quite like William H. Macy. He is the definitive actor for a role like he has here. Whether in the lead or a smaller role like this Macy always brings his A-game to the table.
There is one thing that has to be said about Starz / Anchor Bay, they recognize a film that deserves to be seen. In releasing this one they continue to provide little art house darlings to the general public. Unless you really keep up with the world of independent film and have a theater willing to show smaller films you most likely never heard of this one. Now you can have your own art house in your living room and it is certain it will have many films from this distributor. The DVD has an excellent 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer that gives a realistic feel without over doing it. The same goes for the Dolby 5.1 audio. While the sub woofer is mostly silent there is a sound stage that gives a true ambience to the film. The commentary track by Cappello is more interesting than most. He goes into details about all the hard work by a lot of people that got this film made. It is like a mini course in Indy film production. There are a few deleted and alternate scenes as well as a first look featurette. If you enjoy dark comedy this is a must have for your collection.