PHIL SPECTOR

Phil Spector is a mess. PHIL SPECTOR is also a mess, as you’ll see when you watch the David Mamet HBO movie that, we are reminded, is NOT based on a true story, even though it is. That’s actually not the problem. Mamet’s approach can be justified as a meditation on a notorious celebrity’s sensational murder trial. (Joyce Carol Oates did the same thing in the novel BLONDE, her take on Marilyn Monroe.) But when Mamet starts meditating, something inside of him starts blaming women. The screenplay shows us a defense team with no other choice but to make murder victim Lana Clarkson the villain. Spector, the lawyers agree, is too unlikeable, too crazy, too outlandish to ever win sympathy from a jury. And here is where Mamet goes off the rails, contradicting the lawyers by the way he chooses to portray Spector  — as likable and coherent. This starts of course with the casting. I ask you: when have you ever NOT rooted for Al Pacino’s character in a movie? It doesn’t matter if he’s playing a villain or a saint. Jack Kevorkian, Roy Cohn, the Devil, Michael Corleone, Tony Montana, Frank Serpico — we fell in love with all these guys because we love the scenery-gobbling life force that is Al. (I will admit, though, BOBBY DEERFIELD was a drag.) Now look at the real Phil Spector: A spectacularly ugly man. (Only Charles Krauthammer rivals him in sheer physical repellence.) And batshit crazy. too. He reportedly stank from drugs. He inarguably abused many of his “dates” with gun threats. A total asshole. So my question is, what’s the point? Except for adding to Pacino’s long list of delicious star turns (the freakout near the end is heaven), PHIL SPECTOR (which by the way also abuses Helen Mirren by thanklessly giving her character a bad case of flu FOR THE ENTIRE MOVIE) is a miscarriage of art. — Jeff Schultz

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