Southern Scotch

Southern Scotch

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Great Canadian Thrilller

Nearly forty years ago the best damned thriller that you've never seen came to us from Canada:

The Silent Partner


An online review sums it nicely without serving up any spoilers:


Anders Bodelson's Danish novel "Think of a Number" has been transplanted to Toronto, intelligently updated by screenwriter Curtis Hanson, and directed by Daryl Duke in brilliant fashion. What makes this film so special, I think, is that you wind up rooting for Elliott Gould, a bank teller turned thief, to best Christopher Plummer, a sadistic bank robber, even though Gould's character is basically amoral. This is that rare thriller that works on every level. The plotting feels free of contrivance, Gould and Plummer have never been better, chilly Toronto looks spectacular, and there's a wonderfully evocative, jazzy soundtrack by pianist Oscar Peterson.

Coming as it did out of Canada in 1978, this film, despite its high quality, was almost immediately forgotten, but it is surely deserving of rediscovery. 

A few key points of interest:
--The casting is perfect, with wonderful performances from Elliott Gould, Christopher Plummer and Susannah York. John Candy turns in a memorable near-first performance. And a young Quebec beauty named Celine Lomez is so effortlessly sexy you'll wonder why she pretty much retired from film making after 1981.
--The ingenious, brainy, cat and mouse script is a star in its own right. And it was written by Curtis Hanson...who went on to write two not so little numbers known as LA Confidential and 8 Mile.
--Director Daryl Duke's career in TV and film spanned 30 years. And his accolades/awards included an Emmy, A National Society of Film Critics Special Award, a Canadian Film Award and official entry at the Cannes Film Festival. Though The Silent Partner was his biggest hit--as well as his best film--he chose never to work in this genre again.
--The Toronto setting is refreshing and unique. At a time when American film companies shot in Toronto and Vancouver for budgetary reasons, Americanizing the actors and sets, this stunning film announced, quietly proud: You are in Toronto...This is a Canadian bank...This is Canadian money...This is a Canadian wedding...This is a Toronto teller throwing thousands of dollars, unseen, into the lunchbox stowed under his drawer...

THE BIG TWO

1) In decades of studying thrillers, I've never seen a game of cat and mouse played out as well as this one. A clever and serious writer based his whole narrative game plan on carefully drawn characters, whom he fully understood. The logic at work is thrilling and relentless. And this film will be the just reward for any viewer who's grown sick of quickly drafted, crappy flicks that simply make no sense at all. If Gould's character Miles loves fish in this film, that is so for some very good reasons. If Gould's apartment is shown in a menacing light but nothing immediately happens...sit back and relax, friends, because something will.
2) The Toronto setting works--and yet it may have cost the film in terms of box office dollars. Not because viewers would have minded but because distributors feared that they would mind. Oh dear, a Canadian movie...Toronto doesn't resonate with crowds the same way that New York does. Let's put an end to this nonsense right now. The Toronto setting does work here precisely because it is different...familiar enough yet exotic as well. Not just exotic--surprising. A narrative jack-in-the box. You don't expect the carnage to come in a setting this quiet and lovely.

A CLOSING PLEA TO CANADIANS

Nearly forty years after this movie's release, the time has come for Canadians to take a stand against Hollywood greed. Let us film in your cities--only as long as what we show are your cities. Don't allow us any longer to save dough by pretending you're us and not you. If we're not willing to abide, then say it loud and say it proud:

                  BUZZ OFF, YOU EVIL BASTARDS!

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