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Les Choristes

The French confection Les Choristes is now available on a skimpy, movie-only DVD —Matt Anderson (DVD review...)

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A personal recommendation, a high Tomatometer rating, and a slow month conspired to have me watch He Was a Quiet Man. It looks like a straight-to-video movie starring Christian Slater and Elisha Cuthbert. I am told it opened briefly at some theaters last year, but straight-to-video is just about what this movie deserves.

Slater gets the only well-written character, and he's unworthy of our attention
Slater gets the only well-written character, and he’s unworthy of our attention

(There will be spoilers ahead, so proceed at your own risk.)

On the box you’ll find a nebbishy Christian Slater hugging a bundle of dynamite. As soon as the movie opens you’ll see him as another disaffected white male ranting about how emasculating modern society is . Stroking his revolver, he fantasizes about blowing away his coworkers for perceived slights he’s too inept to deal with diplomatically.

As in 1993’s Falling Down or even this winter’s Sweeney Todd, our protagonist is a would-be perpetrator of mass murder/suicide. While it’s possible to make a good film with a protagonist like that, it’s unfortunate that filmmakers and screenwriters don’t take incidents like the Omaha mall shootings or the Colorado church shootings more seriously. Here, such a character is the basis for black comedy and a little romance before returning to the dark side.

Slater plays Bob Maconel, the bottom male in the office pecking order. In psychology or animal behavior, he’d be referred to as the “scapegoat” animal, the runt who gets kicked around when the other males need to vent their frustration. In order to demonstrate Bob’s place in the pecking order, the movie (written and directed by Frank A. Cappello) uses caricatures instead of real people. Only the protagonist is written with any depth or soul; everyone else is a plot device.

The movie’s hook is clever: before Bob can gun down his coworkers, another nebbish opens fire, taking out the very coworkers that Bob fantasized about killing. Instead of asking him “how could you??” Bob asks “how did it feel?”. Their brief, funny conversation between equals ends with Bob shooting the gunman and becoming a hero.

But “clever” only gets this movie so far. Nobody in this universe, apparently, reacts selfishly to the news of six dead in an office building. Instead of grieving or asking “why,” they would rather, unanimously, congratulate Bob. He gets a gigantic promotion, invitations to golf with the executives, offers for sex from female coworkers, you name it. As any student of psychology or animal behavior could tell you, this rings completely false.

What makes this movie so bad is that there is nothing real in it; there is no human or emotional truth to latch onto. And much of the reason for that is that everything is written to revolve around Bob. “The girl” has been hit by a stray bullet and she has become paralyzed. First she asks to see Bob in her hospital room, and when he arrives, she spits in his face because she hates being paralyzed. Does she blame the shooter? Does she blame God? Of course not. She blames the little invisible guy in the corner cubicle whom she’s barely noticed and whose name she only knows from the newspapers. When she’d rather die than live paralyzed, does she refuse to eat or write a living will? Of course not; she asks Bob to perform a mercy killing. And for her last night on Earth? Dinner and Karaoke with Bob, please.

The only person you can connect to in He Was a Quiet Man is Bob. And although you can almost sympathize with a loser like him, his willingness to cross that line and kill you or me or that woman who happens to be walking by makes him truly a loser and unworthy of our attention.

He Was a Quiet Man occasionally works as a black comedy. But the two or three laughs it gets are not worth it. Send this (not-quite-) straight-to-video release back.

  • kmap: I think you misunderstood the entire movie. It's about Bob's delusions and how he wanted everything to happen, gradually returning to reality. February 2, 2008 reply
  • Marty Mapes: Could be. If everything happens in Bob's head, then it doesn't matter if the other characters are unbelievable because they're not real; they're figments of Bob's imagination. I'm not sure that makes the movie much better for me, but I guess it provides a loophole for caricatures instead of characters. February 3, 2008 reply
  • skyfire: kmap is right. you missed the premise of the movie entirely. read the spoilers on imdb.com for more information. it's a smarter, more creative, and more ironic movie than you think. March 12, 2008 reply
  • Robby Bobby:
    The promotion, the affair with Vanessa, even the initial massacre performed by his coworker were just constructs of a "proposed outcome". An elborate scenerio that lasted an hour and a half on our screens but only a few seconds in the characters mind.

    Yes, the things like the promotion and peoples reaction in general were totally unrealistic. That is because we see all of it happening through the distorted perception of the main character.

    Even in his own mind he couldn't give himself a happy ending. Consider the relationship with vanessa, she seemed to be entirely geniune. What does she really have to gain?
    You see, Bob can see what he wants, Vanessa, a promotion and respect from his peers. However, in his entire collective existence he doesn't even have enough positive expierinces with social success to have an adequet fantacy about success without it imploding on him. Even the affair with vanessa, whether he knew it or not, in his mind the only way she would be with him is if she was totally depenent on him.

    Watch the ending again. Remember the manager walks by his cubicle asking where Mcconnel is, and then states that he told Bob to stay there. well, if bob "really" got promoted that wouldn't have even been his cubicle anymore. Because in the fantasy he get vanessas office.

    Then Bob goes outside of his cubicle to retrieve the bullet he dropped. This is his "real" moment of truth. Everybody sees he has a gun and flees.

    Vanessa is the only one left. Bob thinks she is the other girl that hassles him and he raises his gun to her ( the killer in his fantasy confused vanessa and the other woman, and shot vanessa on mistake).

    When he sees it's vanessa he decides not to kill her. The monologue begins. " All I ever wanted was to be somebody in your life...." He turns the gun on himself getting the concern of vanessa. Then he shoots himself.

    Really a quite tragic movie. I'm sorry it is so misunderstood. There is a lot to be taken from it. To some people hapiness is completely impossible even to dream of it.

    March 13, 2008 reply
  • Marty Mapes: Thanks Robby Bobby for an excellent comment. You clearly watched the movie more carefully than I did. I still find it unfortunate that for 90 minutes, the movie plays so false, and that it only makes sense at the very end, and I think that's asking a lot. Compare that to The Sixth Sense, for example, where the movie would have been a decent ghost story even without the mind-blower ending. Whereas this film is only good once you consider the ending. So I guess I'll stick to my guns. But I'm glad there's so much support for this film and that people are getting so much out of it. More power to you all, and to the filmmakers. March 13, 2008 reply
  • ryan: I absolutely agree with the above. Marty Mapes missed entirely the point of the movie, all due respect, Marty. The tragedy is that Bob was unable to even fantasize about a happy ending...my god can't we all imagine ourselves surrounded by riches and children in the twilight of our lives? Bob's clouded world is so bereft of hope that he can't even "invent" happiness for himself. Just my $.02 Thanks for having me on. March 28, 2008 reply
  • normfromga: The depths of Bob's imagination may go deeper than even the film's fans agree on:

    There is significant evidence that Vanessa herself never existed, purely a life-sized clone of his hula-doll, whose "smile could light up a room."

    [Note that only evidence of her presence before the shootings was the movement of hanging snowflakes when she moved by, and even they disappeared when he "returned to reality" at the end of the film.}

    Rarely have I seen so many aspects of such a seemingly minor film been so adamantly debated... April 29, 2008 reply
  • Neil: I also thought it was an interesting movie - I guess the very fact that it got me to get online and see what others made of it suggests that! Like Memento and Angel Heart it made me rewind the video and go through bits again. Only at the last scene was it clear that Coleman (the other killer) and Vanessa in a wheel chair were all in his mind. Some might suggest that it's too easy to make movies where at the end they wake-up-and-its-all-a-dream but I think they would be missing the point. The idea that the psychologist was also a figment of his own imagination must be a message from his brain trying to suggest that he is not well and perhaps when we ask whether such people can't distinguish between right & wrong, perhaps that is how it works - messages from the brain through dreams/illusions/fantasies trying to suggest he needs help. I get the impression that the management did have a concern about him and were keeping an eye on him which powered the fantasies in his mind. It certainly made me wonder that if I was losing my mind at work, how would I know and it made me think how much we make sanity checks by reading people's reactions to our own actions - which maybe why we get upset when others disagree with us! But I do question one or two things: when he was spinning around on his lawn mower fantasising about his relationship with Vanessa, was he also imagining that garden scene too? Or had that actually happened out of sequence at an earlier time? Also, why did Vanessa fade out of view in the very last scene, seemingly replaced by a humming bird? Oh, and what the hell were those glass pots he was drinking?! May 19, 2008 reply
  • Seth D. Moody: The glass pots were apple juice. Recall he told Vanessa how much he liked it. I don't recall the brand, but you can find them in any grocery store. He seemed in that scene in the restaurant with Vanessa to relish telling her how much he liked apple juice, and in the scene in the kitchen the humming bird was trying to get at his apple juice--another living thing that liked something that he liked, even if it didn't know what it was. Fish and humming birds were his only friends. He killed the fish, but spared the humming bird. June 7, 2008 reply
  • Phil: Marty went all the way to the brink and just missed the eureka moment...but he was teatering over the edge. An explanation wasnt necessary, but a Zen like prod could have made him realise it all for himself..

    I think that is the real point of these kindsa movies. August 17, 2008 reply
  • (anonymous): Totally agree with the poster. The fact that he "imagined" 98% of the film doesn't improve it. It was a decent watch but way overwrought. November 9, 2012 reply