TV Review - Phil Spector

David Mamet wrote and directed this HBO movie. Mamet is mainly known for being a playwright. He has crafted great works for the stage, works that really highlight an actor's performance. Yet, he's also made movies that are quite cinematic. His Phil Spector speaks to the former, and, aside from great production design, which gloriously re-creates Spector's home, this movie is less cinematic, as it is more a vehicle for Al Pacino to give a bravura performance through mostly well-scripted monologues.

Helen Mirren stars as Linda Baden, the defense attorney who is brought to Los Angeles to help with Phil Spector's murder trial. Spector is accused of killing actress Lana Clarkson in 2003. The prosecutors believe Spector shot her in the head. Spector argues that she shot herself either by suicide or by accident. At first, Linda thinks Spector is guilty or at least she tells Spector's lead attorney Bruce Cutler, played by Jeffrey Tambor, that the defense will be difficult.

The opening ten minutes or so is basically Linda and Bruce arguing over whether or not there is a case. Mamet stages the scene with the two of them walking around the make-shift office where the defense has assembled. This first ten minutes feel like it's all one, continuous shot, but either through the writing or editing, the conversation seems like a nonstop flow, a back-and-forth with no breaks that both actors perform well.

Linda goes to visit Spector's house on a creepy, rainy night. Mamet films the initial moments like a horror movie. Pacino's introduction as Spector isn't done as a jump scare, but he is shrouded in shadow. Mamet almost wants this air of mystery and perhaps fear to pervade these early instances.

Almost immediately, Spector launches into what will be a ten-minute and almost fifteen-minute monologue that Pacino delivers flawlessly. There are lines of dialogue from Mirren that give Pacino an opportunity to break as well as develop a type of rhythm between the two, but it really becomes the Al Pacino show.

It's not that show for the entire run of the movie. After the initial introduction, Pacino is only used for punctuation, and most of that punctuation is basically Spector being crazy. Whether it's Spector shooting a gun in a recording studio, Spector exploding in a mock trial or Spector wearing a weird, afro wig, Mamet only gives us concentrated Spector in appropriate doses.

The rest of the movie focuses on Linda working on this case and having to come up with a defense. Because of a lack of motive and the analysis of the blood splatter, Linda starts to change her opinion. It's not a new journey for a person to take, but Mirren aces her way through it buttressed by Mamet's great skill.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-MA.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 32 mins.


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