SPINNING MAN Review: He’s A Goner, Girl

Guy Pearce and Pierce Brosnan star in a psychological murder mystery whose resolution may not even matter.

Spinning Man almost works like an experimental movie, in that it seems to ask the question: what if you constructed a murder procedural in which the crime’s never resolved? Swedish director Simon Kaijser (Before We Die) hasn't made a bad motion picture, by any means. In fact, as the central conceit slowly makes itself clear – a mystery that is only dealt with in near abstract philosophical terms – the viewer's drawn in through torpid discussions regarding the human inventions of "truth""memory", and "evidence", while we wonder if Detective Malloy (Pierce Brosnan) is ever really going to solve the case of a young cheerleader (Odeya Rush) who went missing by the lake, and the college professor (Guy Pearce) who may or may not have been having an ill-advised affair with the underage girl. Furthermore, even if he does prove the academic is her killer, does it even matter in the grand scheme of the universe?

In fact, the whodunit aspects of Spinning Man often seem like an afterthought, despite the entire movie being beautifully lensed in varying shades of ominous turquoise by cinematographer Polly Morgan (Legion), and portentously scored by Jean-Paul Wall (By the Rails). No, what Coco scribe Matthew Aldrich – adapting the novel of the same name by George Harrar – seems more interested in exploring is how this intellectual rationalizes his constant stepping out on a perfect wife (Minnie Driver) and two beautiful kids. He slips into these strange trances – fantasizing about fucking the pretty clerk at the hardware store (Natasha Bassett), and even acts on the impulses with one of his pretty philosophy students (Alexandra Shipp). 

Or did he? Just like the recreation of facts for Malloy's potential homicide case, memory is only a construct in Spinning Man; rendered all the more unreliable by a man who can't seem to remember what he had for lunch that day, let alone an illicit affair whose sordid details would be best kept locked away from this county murder dick. However, this evasiveness – particularly in terms of narrative cohesion – becomes tiresome after a while, especially once it’s clear that there isn't really going to be a defined climax around the fifty-minute mark. Spinning Man drones along, creating this drifting haze that sort of resembles a beach read, composed by an author who's working on their PhD simultaneously. Kaijser's aesthetics are in direct conflict with the weighty themes he's trying to convey, as we keep waiting for the storyline to kick in and take us home in any satisfying fashion.

Pearce's professor is always defensive – not so much because he has something to hide, but because he's unsure if he has anything to hide – thus leading him to refuse a search of his car, and become cagey in interrogation rooms. His wife knows about his infidelity – as it’s caused them to relocate on perhaps more than one occasion – but did he take his latest affair too far? Spinning Man’s structure hints at another shoe, just waiting to drop. Yet every time we believe Malloy's on the verge of a breakthrough, Kaijser cuts back to the thinker and his many women, chatting about the morality of their numerous relationships; sexual, professional, platonic, and otherwise. You actually feel sort of bad for Brosnan, whose character is mostly this fumbling prude of a guide, leading the audience through the sordid lives of these pretentious deep thinkers.

Again, does this make Spinning Man a subpar film? Not really. It moves along at a steady clip, and Brosnan, Pearce, and Driver are actively engaged with the heady approach to telling an otherwise recognizable murder mystery. However, it's hard to stay engaged with all this dorm room-ready discussion regarding the complex politics of the mind, when it becomes increasingly clear that there's not going to be any sort of pleasing payoff to the more traditional elements of the storyline. What could've been a nice companion to a modern masterpiece like David Fincher's Gone Girl ends up becoming little more than a curiosity for fans of all the brilliant actors involved. In the end, the philosophical man wins out over the pragmatic one, or does he? It's up for us to decide when the movie ends on a note that may be a "twist", or a rather obvious conclusion that these circular discussions have been masking all along. 

Spinning Man is available now on VOD.