Netflix’s latest psychological thriller, Spinning Man, boasts some pedigree. The strong cast includes Guy Pearce, Pierce Brosnan, Minnie Driver, Alexandra Shipp, and Clark Gregg. An unrecognizable Jamie Kennedy even turns up in a small role. Less a ‘whodunnit’ and more of a dive into the fragility of memory and truth, Spinning Man clearly was shooting for a Memento vibe. Does it succeed in balancing white-knuckle suspense with big ideas?
Philosophy professor Evan Birch is happily married with two young daughters. After an alleged affair nearly derailed his career, Birch is back on track with a new book and position. When high school cheerleader Joyce Bonner goes missing, however, a relentless police detective pegs Birch as the prime suspect. The investigation tests the limits of not only Birch’s marriage and career but his own memories.
Spinning Man Weaves An Intriguing PuzzleBased on George Harrar’s novel of the same name, Spinning Man at the least excels at one part of the psychological thriller genre. Director Simon Kaijser spins an intriguing puzzle, playing with timelines and blurred memories. On one level, Spinning Man feels like a basic ‘Did he do it?” Kaijser wastes little time raising doubts about Birch’s innocence with flashbacks and flash forwards. In this regard, Kaijser’s filmmaking is more workmanlike than innovative.
Where Spinning Man departs from more generic thrillers is in its ambitious exploration of memory and truth.Where Spinning Man departs from more generic thrillers is in its ambitious exploration of memory and truth. Actual story revelations in the investigation aren’t nearly as interesting as Birch’s reactions. Is Birch an unreliable narrator? This question lies at the heart of the movie. At one point, Birch himself cautions his wife that he can only promise to tell “his version of the truth.” Consistent with Birch’s proclamations about truth, Kaijser never definitively answers many questions raised in the movie. Spinning Man very much wants to tread the same ground as Memento.
Spinning Man Forgets the “Thriller” in Psychological ThrillerWhere Spinning Man falls well short of Memento is in its execution. Both its story and themes around memory and truth are engrossing as a cerebral exercises. But Kaijser fails to develop much genuine suspense or tension. Spinning Man is a cold and clinical movie experience. It almost borders on feeling detached. This is no more true than in the movie’s climax. What should be a heart-stopping finale instead feels almost perfunctory. It’s less Memento, and more looking up your grades after final exams. Fortunately, Spinning Man’s basic story and the performances do more than enough to maintain interest.
Strong Lead Performances Elevate Clunky Dialogue
Guy Pearce is an underrated actor. He’s always reliable across a range of roles, but he’s never what you probably remember about the movie. Think about it. Was it Guy Pearce’s performance that had audiences buzzing after Memento or L.A. Confidential? Here in Spinning Man, Pearce once again disappears entirely into his role. In what’s a very cerebral film, Pearce adds emotional complexity to a character that could have been cold and unrelatable.
In what’s a very cerebral film, Pearce adds emotional complexity to a character that could have been cold and unrelatable.
As Detective Malloy, Pierce Brosnan gives a wonderfully restrained and melancholy performance. Brosnan eschews most of the familiar police detective tropes, which gives Spinning Man a somewhat unique feel. Minnie Driver is somewhat wasted in what feels like just a generic ‘wife of the protagonist’ role. Matthew Aldrich’s adapted screenplay gives Driver a few scenes in which to shine. But it’s too few for a talented actress. Alexandra Shipp (Tragedy Girls) continues to show promise of big things. Of course, Aldrich’s script doesn’t do any of the performers favours. There’s too much clunky dialogue that seemingly exists only to give the audience specific information.
Spinning Man Makes a Better Intellectual Exercise Than a Movie
Ultimately, Spinning Man poses some interesting questions. It’s a movie that absolutely lends itself to some post-analysis. Like Christopher Nolan’s Memento, Spinning Man wants very badly to be a thriller that engages on multiple levels. They even brought in Guy Pearce, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle. While Spinning Man intrigues on a cerebral level, it doesn’t quite push the right buttons to engage as a complete thriller.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: B-