Three Thrillers from MGM
Everybody Wins (May 28/07)
Everybody Wins casts Nick Nolte as Tom O'Toole, a private investigator who agrees to look into a small-town murder after a mysterious woman (Debra Winger's Angela Crispini) weasels her way into his life. Directed by Karel Reisz, Everybody Wins goes off the rails almost immediately - with Arthur Miller's surprisingly incoherent screenplay certainly a key element in the film's downfall. Miller's stagy, impossibly stilted dialogue is exacerbated by his refusal/inability to offer up a single interesting figure, and the actors are consequently left floundering as they attempt to breathe some authenticity into their poorly-drawn characters. Nolte's bland performance is Oscar-worthy compared to the histrionics offered up by Winger, although - to be fair - it's tough to imagine any actress effectively stepping into the shoes of such an unreasonably over-the-top character. That Miller has infused the proceedings with storyline that becomes increasingly convoluted and flat-out impossible to follow as the film progresses doesn't help matters, and it's ultimately impossible to label Everybody Wins as anything other than an unmitigated disaster.
While there's certainly plenty to like about Mr. Brooks (including star Kevin Costner's subtle and thoroughly effective performance), the film ultimately suffers from an egregiously uneven vibe that's compounded by a distractingly overlong running time. Costner stars as the title character, a respected businessman who also happens to be a fearsome serial killer (William Hurt co-stars as his vicious, fun-loving alter-ego). The bulk of the storyline revolves around Mr. Brooks' efforts to placate a blackmailer (Dane Cook's Mr. Smith) determined to tag along on a kill, while an equal amount of screentime is devoted to grizzled cop Tracy Atwood's (Demi Moore) ongoing investigation of the meticulous murderer. Director Bruce A. Evans initially infuses Mr. Brooks with a slow-paced, character-driven sensibility that proves to be irresistible, as Costner effortlessly steps into the shoes of one of the most complex characters of his career and somehow manages to turn a sociopath into a figure worth rooting for. But Evans and co-screenwriter Raynold Gideon slowly-but-surely begin to take the emphasis off Mr. Brooks and instead emphasize Moore's character's decidedly less-than-interesting shenanigans (ie she must contend with an escaped convict out for revenge and a money-grubbing ex). The inclusion of several way out-of-left-field action sequences only cements Mr. Brooks' status as a seriously unfocused piece of work, though there's little doubt that the movie remains worth a look if only for Costner's eye-opening performance.
The Spiral Staircase (May 29/07)
Aside from Robert Siodmak's impressively atmospheric direction, The Spiral Staircase has exceedingly little to offer in the way of positive attributes - with the majority of the film's running time bogged down in the dull exploits of several uninteresting characters. Dorothy McGuire stars as Helen Capel, a mute nursemaid whose safety is compromised after a serial killer begins offing women with noticeable disabilities. Employed by a temperamental spinster (Ethel Barrymore's Mrs. Warren), Helen is forced to spend one very long night within the confines of the old lady's palatial estate among her quirky relatives and servants (one of whom is, naturally, the killer). Screenwriter Mel Dinelli - working from Ethel Lina White's novel - has infused the majority of The Spiral Staircase with a slow-paced, egregiously talky vibe, and there's little doubt that the relentless emphasis on the various characters' melodramatic shenanigans becomes tiresome almost immediately (ie the dysfunctional relationship between Mrs. Warren's two sons). It's a shame, really; the moody cinematography by Nicholas Musuraca ensures that the film is generally always compelling on a purely visual level, while the few suspenseful sequences are admittedly quite well done. But The Spiral Staircase ultimately suffers from a feeling of overlength that negates its positive elements; it's clear that the movie probably would've worked a whole lot better as either a short or as an installment in a horror anthology.