Lost And Found Series: Chapter 4 Another Brick In The Wall
Welcome back. Did everybody enjoy their time with Jimmy ‘Fingers’ from last week? If so you will no doubt know that he is a real gent, unless you don’t have the money that you owe him. For those who are not familiar with him yet, brace yourself. This week I bring to you something slightly different again and very exciting for all you gamblers out there. Keeping in the theme of last week with film characters being in debt, have you ever lost in a card game so bad that that the only way to pay it off was to become slaves to the people you owe it to? No. Well James Spader and Mandy Patinkin do in this sinister character study. Ladies, gentlemen, gamblers, hustlers, con-artists I present to you…’The Music of Chance’.
Film: The Music of Chance-Another Brick in the Wall
Cast: Mandy Patinkin, James Spader, M. Emmet Walsh and Charles Durning
Director: Philip Haas
Jim Nashe (Mandy Patinkin) is driving freely at his leisure and notices a man badly beaten on the roadside. Offering him a lift to wherever he is going and some help, the man explains that he just lost a poker game after it was robbed and he was beaten up after the other players suspected him of organising the robbery. He tells Nashe his name is Jack Pozzi (James Spader) and all he needs is $10,000 to play a pair of eccentric millionaires Flower and Stone, he has beaten before in order to win the money back and possibly much more. With nothing to do and having the money handy Nashe agrees to give Pozzi the money. They lose the game, all their money and have no way of getting back home when Nashe gambles his car and also loses after further bets are placed. The two wealthy business men agree the only way for Nashe and Pozzi can pay off their hefty debt is to build a wall on their premises that consists of 10,000 bricks for the next fifty days and all will be forgotten.
After reading that synopsis you are probably not surprised to hear the film is based on a book, written by Paul Auster whose work usually deals with coincidence, absurdism, identity and failure. You may also be thinking it is littered with all types of metaphors, allegories and other literary structures, which it is except the pleasure comes from working out what it all might mean and why. The director Philip Haas gives us all of the different sub-textual pieces to put together, and thankfully opts out of using stylistic imagery to distract us from the disturbing almost concealed events taking place which helps to guide us to where the pieces go in order to form the overall picture of this cinematic puzzle. However, sometimes the pieces do not seem to fit even though you are sure they go in a certain place and some of the segments just flat-out do not feel right. Haas and writer Paul Auster devises a puzzling
‘The Music of Chance’ does have an episodic feel to it; one can overlook this aspect and focus on its haunting sense of fate, luck and cautionary narrative that almost fits perfectly into a horror film with disconcerting sentiment rather than ordinary drama storytelling. Not forgetting its literary roots, the film has a sort of chapter driven tone. The characters personas and mannerisms appear as if they leaped out of a book rather than from a film script. Haas comes across as more of an actor’s director, which could have possibly stemmed from his experience in documentary filmmaking.
The performances are very theatrical but with enough sophistication for them to not come off as too stagey and translate well to the screen. James Spader in particular gives a tour de force performance as low-life gambler Jack Pozzi with his tacky dress sense and stubborn ways. You have not seen Spader like this before. Often typecast in the eighties/nineties for just playing, slimy creepy stereotypical yuppies you would not like to meet down an alley after midnight, or anytime for that matter, Spader possesses some of those very same qualities here but with more poignancy due to his agitated movements elevated by the sharp dialogue and development of characters that are much more than they appear to be.
Pozzi’s childlike qualities compliments Mandy Patinkin’s understated performance and emphasises the father-son relationship they form. In certain scenes Pozzi slouches, and is quite candid about what is on his mind. While Nashe sits up straight, calculating everything that is happening and only giving short direct answers without revealing too much but just enough. This gives the audience a sense of hope that with Nashe’s straightforward qualities he might be able to get the ill-fated duo out of trouble and outsmart the millionaires and their foreman Calvin Murks played by M. Emmet Walsh who seems pleasant on the outside but just as sinister and callous as his eccentric bosses.
The film not only makes the characters question themselves but also the audience too, shifting the focus around on who might be the villain. At first we might think it is Spader with his gaudy charisma, then the millionaires with their cheery malicious smiles. Then there is Mr. Murks for not being as generous as he makes out to be. However, it can be argued that everybody is their own enemy, making quick brash decisions and acting on initial satisfaction rather than what will serve those best in the future.
Overall there is a good amount of mysterious undertones and troubling nuances here to sink your teeth into. If you give it a chance and care about the fate of the characters enough it is quite a disturbing but entertaining ride. One of the reasons I would put this in the rapidly growing ‘Found’ section would be due to the fact that the film encourages what most, even the best, cannot do which is evoke interesting discussions about its underlying meanings, if any at all. Until next week then folks, and remember to play your cards right.