- Katie Bell
Spenser Confidential (2020)
As a teenager, I was pure fan-girl for Alan Arkin. For some reason, he kept showing up in films that I loved: Edward Scissorhands (1990), The Rocketeer (1992) and Little Miss Sunshine (2006), to name a few. If I learnt anything from Spenser Confidential it's that my love for Alan Arkin's acting has not died. That man is funny.
Spenser Confidential tells the story of the titular, Spenser (Mark Wahlberg), an ex-Boston cop, who was imprisoned for five years for assault (against a police captain). Of course, upon his release from
the aforementioned police captain is murdered and of course, Spenser becomes a suspect. Although, he tries to focus on his new dream of becoming a truck driver in Arizona, he ultimately has "the detective's itch" and can't stop thinking about Captain Boylan's untimely demise. This is highlighted, when, in his semi-trailer driver course, he writes, "Who killed Boylan?" and, "Why?" in his notebook, instead of information about semi-trailers. Eventually, when a second police officer, Terrence Graham, turns up dead and is blamed for Boylan's murder, Spenser simply cannot take a backseat any longer, and begins to investigate the murders himself.
Spenser's need to investigate and seek justice for those who have been wronged or wrongly convicted is definitely his strongest personality trait. There are several moments in the film, where Spenser witnesses a victim crying for help on the television, and good old Henry (Alan Arkin) warns him not to get involved...before he goes ahead and gets involved anyway. This inability to stay out of investigations that don't involve him, does create comedy, and causes him to be a very likeable character. However, this "dog with a bone" attitude that Spenser exhibits, is both his greatest strength and his greatest weakness, as it's a huge part of the reason why he ended up in prison in the first place. Wahlberg's portrayal of this character is fine. My only issue with Spenser really is the way he is costumed. He runs around for the majority of the film, dressed like a police detective...something that he never was. So why does he own so much detective-esque clothing? Did he used to wear suits in his spare time? Does he not understand the comfort of rolling around in a hoodie and jeans. Although dressing Spenser in detective's attire highlights his aspirations, at times it is confusing, as the audience has to constantly remind themselves that he actually doesn't have experience doing what he is doing...he's just dressing the part and improvising. His achievements might seem more substantial, if he dressed like the regular citizen that he is.
The visuals used in this film, are possibly it's greatest strength. There are a number of occasions, where camera angles, shot sizes or juxtaposition are used to create symbolism. The first that I noticed is a particularly pretty medium shot of Spenser's bloody-knuckled hands, surfing the wind out of the car window, shortly after his release from prison. Another is the low-angled shot of a number of police officers, standing outside a bar. The third? The juxtaposition of Boylan's funeral and Terrence's funeral: a full house for one and an almost empty room for the other. This film communicates as much through its visuals, as it does through its dialogue, and that is enjoyable to see.
Although this visual communication is incredibly meaningful at times, there are other moments in the movie, where the shots and angles are coming in thick and fast and don't seem to have any apparent meaning. At times, Wahlberg is shot from three or four different angles in one thirty-second conversation and I personally, found this to be distracting on occasion (especially when you add in the shots of the other person in the discussion).
Likewise, the soundtrack was at times distracting. There is a blend of old and new and occasionally a song sticks out like a sore thumb. You've got everything from 'Udigg' by Germ, and 'DOA' by Marcellus Juvann, to 'Mississippi Queen' by Mountain and 'Sweet Emotion' by Aerosmith. And then 'Sweet Caroline' played and I had no idea what was going on. To be fair, 'Sweet Caroline' played during the bar scene and it is what you'd expect to play in a bar. Bizarrely though, Spenser doesn't hear it while he's walking through the bar, instead it is faintly heard in the background whilst he is in the bathroom and then rises to a crescendo to accompany a bathroom fight scene. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind the occasional bathroom bar fight to the tune of a Neil Diamond classic - my friends can attest to that. The irony creates humour and that is evident in this scene. What I really would have liked though is more consistency across the soundtrack as a whole, rather than jumping back and forth between the new and the old. As a character, Spenser admits to being rubbish with technology, and indeed, this is to an extent a reason why Hawk is encouraged to come along buddy cop-style for the investigatory ride. So perhaps sticking to the rock classics would have been the most appropriate choice.
At one point in the film Spenser's "it's complicated" partner, Cissy, says, "This is Batman business, all the way". And she isn't wrong. Spenser, Hawk and Henry are vigilantes and they commit so many crimes, in their pursuit for the truth. I cannot stress this enough. This may be the part of the film that concerns me the most, because they are investigating police officers. They are encountering police officers regularly. Sometimes they are even encountering the FBI. In addition to all of this, Spenser has just been released from prison, and the guy that he was in there for assaulting, has died. He is a suspect in the case that he is illegally investigating. I have no idea how or why Spenser, Hawk and (to a lesser extent) Henry, get away with some of the stuff they do. They should have been arrested several times over. I'm glad they weren't, because their adventures did make for a somewhat entertaining film...but they definitely should not have been able to get away with what they did.
This is an Alan Arkin film that won't find pride of place on my DVD shelves, nor will it be played a second time. It's fine for a once-off watch. Although I found it muddled at times, and personally, the only jokes that landed for me were Arkin's (I promise it wasn't an inherent bias), I still found it somewhat enjoyable. Additionally, at the conclusion of the film, a sequel is hinted at, and look, I'll probably give that a watch too, if it ever eventuates. So, if you're looking for a lazy way to spend your Sunday afternoon, Spenser Confidential might just be the answer. Would I recommend it beyond that though? Probably not...