SXSW Review: The Key Man Never Unlocks Any Excitement

By Matt Patches 2011-03-16 14:16:36discussion comments
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SXSW Review: The Key Man Never Unlocks Any Excitement image
Even with intriguing plots, settings and casts, some movies never find their footing, left to teeter in the awkward limbo between enjoyable and dreadful known as "boring." The Key Man, from first-time director Peter Himmelstein, assembles a top-notch cast of Hugo Weaving, Brian Cox, Jack Davenport and Judy Greer and drops them in a '70s crime drama with a brainer-than-norm throughline. Amazingly, the film is completely void of life.

Bobby (Davenport) is an insurance salesman who struggles to make ends meet for his wife Karen (Greer) and his son. When he's introduced to Irving (Cox) and Vincent (Weaving), two con men looking to bring him into their criminal circle, Bobby finally sees the opportunity he's been waiting for -- fix a few books, make some quick cash and get out clean and happy. Simple.

Predictably, the scheme is anything but, sending Bobby downward spiraling into the vortex of the con and pushing him to his breaking point. The ins and outs of the insurance world feel particularly foreign and exciting at the beginning of Key Man, but Himmelstein's convoluted script skimps on the details and never allows for an audience connection to the action or deal-making. Perhaps actual insurance salesmen may have different opinions.

The Key Man is more focused on letting its stellar actors play in the caricature sandbox -- and for awhile, that's OK. Weaving, Cox and Davenport are always a delight to watch, but two-dimensional placeholder characters can only be so entertaining for so long. Details of Weaving's Vincent feel especially forced, snippets of backstory and motivation Himmelstein squeezes in last minute to make sense of why we've just spent an hour watching our characters run around and try and backstab one another.

Even with predictable twists and turns, The Key Man may have been a more enjoyable cinematic experience if not for Himmelstein's abuse of retro editing styles, like frame wipes, cropped images and pop art homages, that inject the picture with an unnecessary amount of whiplash. Terence Blanchard's (Inside Man) score feels too kinetic and kitschy for its on good, the wailing trumpets turning a slow burn into a spoof of the Mod Squad.

The movie is proof that Himmelstein has potential as a director, but the style-over-substance approach to a genre already jam-packed with standout entries leaves the film feeling stale. Key Man won't kill you, but there's no insurance covering you for lost time either.
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