Spinning Man, based on the book by George Harrar
Guy Pearce has had much more challenging and rewarding roles than that of Evan Birch, including those of King Edward VIII in the King’s Speech, the sympathetic Detective Senior Nathan Leckie in the fabulous Animal Kingdom, The hurt Locker, Leonard in Memento, the complex Ed Exley in L.A. Confidential and last but not least, the radiant gay man in the flamboyant The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
In Spinning Man, Guy Pearce is Evan Birch, a sophisticated, intelligent, rather dark, complex, erudite, forgetful, elusive philosophy professor, who may or may not be implicated in a crime that has been committed in the neighborhood, although even on the nature of the disappearance of the girl there are questions- is she missing, only to return, has there been a kidnapping, or even worse of all, maybe she had been killed.
Joyce has been in the class of this well liked teacher and since she has been absent for quite some time, the police are investigating, some leads and witnesses leading to the man who drives a grey Volvo, a car that had been named in a testimony which says that the driver was waiting near the place where the girl was last seen.
Leading the inquiry is Detective Malloy, played by Pierce Brosnan- there are moments when the portrayal appears somewhat inadequate, others when the manner seems to be exactly the one required, therefore the overall performance might be difficult to assess, and yet, some would love it and others may have qualms about it.
A game of cat and mouse ensues, and not just regarding the rodent that is roaming through the basement of the teacher, for which he gets a humane trap in the first place, one that allows house owners to release the trapped animal into the field, as opposed to the alternative, which gets it and then insures a slow, awful death by starvation and sometimes hurts members of the household, as happened to the hero’s wife, Ellen Birch aka Minnie Driver.
When two detectives arrive at the house of the Birch family, the teacher is just returning home in his car and they ask him about a couple of days before, if he remembers what he did around three in the afternoon- the wife mentions that he had to pick up their daughter, and given the distance, that would represent an alibi, only he was very late, we find a little later.
The two detectives want to search the car, after they relate the part of an eye witness account, which mentions a driver, the grey Volvo, near the place where the cheerleader had disappeared, and the protagonist refers to the traditional, needed search warrant, and Malloy answers that this is not needed, as long as they have his approval to look into the car.
Evan Birch is not just noncooperative, but outright hostile, even after the wife says that the police can- of course- look inside and then they have a little argument, the wife being at least surprised by the attitude of the spouse, who explains he thought they were pressing and he became defensive.
The hero could well be the antihero, the monster in the feature and he is very evasive, complex, his expertise is actually the philosophy of language, an aspect that the detective feels that it creates a connection between them, since they are both interested in the truth, however different their approaches might be.
The statements made by the protagonist who soon becomes a suspect, if he had not been from the first testimony mentioning his car, are very vague and refer to what he remembers, and the little he mentions regarding the missing girl, his thereabouts when she disappeared is denied by the finding of a piece of paper written by the hero, near the lake of the crime.
However, when asked, the teacher denies knowing about Joyce working at the canoe renting cabin, he has never seen the canoe outfit, did not know about its existence or words to that effect, even if his memory either deceives him, or he tries hard to suppress recollections of evil things he did.
One might even be in the position of not knowing precisely what happened, right to and after the end, for a solution might be presented in which doubts are still hanging- after all, if this character that acts so suspiciously, refuses initial access to his car, says he had not been near the lake and then it turns out that he has- although it is not clear under what circumstances-, might have real trouble with a possible amnesia, then who is to know if he took the girl and what, if anything, did he do to her?
After a while, the body is found and the charge is now one of murder and kidnapping, with other developments that are unfavorable, to say the least, for the teacher who has secrets in his past that surface now, accusations that make his profile fit that of a disturbed individual who is attracted and forces himself upon much younger girls, even his students, as may have happened at the college where he had been employed before arriving in this small town.
Evan Birch has some flashbacks, he sees the missing, now dead girl, on the back seat of his car, forensic evidence has demonstrated that hair found in the Volvo belonged to her, but even now, the connection is only circumstantial, the girl seems to have taken a ride on a rainy day, along with another couple of colleagues, leaving the other memories that the teacher has to entice the public and wonder: the girl from the hardware store, the other student, Anna, and the plaintiff from the former job are all just innocent apparitions, perhaps in one case a frustrated girl, refused by the older man?
Is this a serial killer, a predator and pedophile, willing to use his strong arguments, physical force, ability to conduct debates, insinuate and use words to seduce, manipulate, nudge and ultimately trap innocent girls, just like the mouse in his basement, or a victim of coincidences, unable to remember and acting guilty because of a twisted Pygmalion effect, which in this case would have the nervous, amiable, imaginative professor believe the accusations against him and think that his nightmares, daydreams have actually happened and maybe- surely?- he is the killer?
It is difficult to tell and it is part of the appeal of this film, which is not outstanding, but it is nevertheless an interesting, challenging crime story, a thriller with some merits, if not the best film of the year.