Spider (2002) / Drama-Mystery
MPAA Rated: R for sexuality, violence, and language
Running Time: 98 min.
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Miranda Richardson, Gabriel Byrne, Bradley Hall, Lynn Redgrave, John Neville
Director: David Cronenberg
Screenplay: Patrick McGrath (from his novel)
Thankfully, this isn't another David Cronenberg (Crash, Videodrome) barf-a-thon or an exploration into every sordid taboo subject matter put on film. Rather, it's a subdued, and often quiet film about one man's recollection of a childhood askew. Ralph Fiennes (The End of the Affair, The Avengers) plays the adult Dennis, who mutters incoherently to himself, writing down gibberish in a journal that only he understands, but even then, does he really? He stays in a sort of halfway house for people with mental disabilities in London, where he spends much of his time roaming around, thinking about days gone by. Bradley Hall plays the younger Dennis, a young lad who has trouble coming to terms when the mother he loves dear has been replaced by a saucy tart. Miranda Richardson (Get Carter, Sleepy Hollow) plays the part of mother and tart, and her performance is the best thing about the film, giving a truly memorable performance of contrast.
Like Dennis himself, the film is a schizophrenic entity. Spider is well-made and finely acted, with an acutely written script by Patrick McGrath, from his novel of the same name. It's a bleak looking production, but considering the subject matter, appropriately so. Other than the brilliant work by Richardson, Fiennes makes for a memorably troubled man, a much truer portrayal of a mentally deranged person than his other recent performance in Red Dragon. Gabriel Byrne (End of Days, Stigmata) is also fine in his supporting role as the father of young Dennis, although it is a fairly lean role, acting-wise.
The other side of Spider is that, while undeniably crafted with professionalism, it's also one of the most boring films on the subject, especially when compared to the much more colorful A Beautiful Mind. Perhaps that's intentional, but regardless, the film spends too much time in flashback mode, and although there is a twist to the story at some point, most viewers will be well aware of what's going on long before all the cards are revealed. In the meantime, we wait and wait and wait for things to get to where we already know it's going, as Spider's momentum never proceeds any speedier than a slow, deliberate crawl.
For those few out there that like very somber looks into the minds of troubled people without injection of Hollywood frills or thrills, Spider is recommended for some thoughtful portrayals and moments of intelligence. If that doesn't sound like your cup of tea, I would probably recommend staying away from it, as it can be a slow and gloomy film, without much in momentum or genuine suspense. Despite a fine job by all involved, one does wish it could have been a bit more involving in its presentation.
©2002 Vince Leo