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.
(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.