Ric Roman Waugh, 2013
Simpatico is a screen adaptation of a stage play ill-suited to the purpose. It has the air of a thriller, but its plot is unworthy of it. Indeed, making a thriller about people fiercely trying to protect the central object of Simpatico is a little like making a courtroom drama about someone being tried for purse-snatching. The film’s main plot device is so insignificant it’s absurd.
Small studio Fine Line Features lined up some pretty gosh darn big stars for this project: Jeff Bridges, Nick Nolte, Sharon Stone and Being John Malkovich‘s Catherine Keener all decided to join in on the fun. Bridges plays Lyle Carter, a big-time Kentucky horse racing tycoon with a smeared past. When he was just a young buck he and two of his friends pulled off a racing scam in which they switched a fast horse with a slow horse, bet the 50 to 1 odds and won big. They also took photographs of the racing commissioner having hot, sweaty sex with one of their accomplices so that they can blackmail him should he figure out their scheme.
Now the photographs are in the hands of Vinnie (Nick Nolte), the most hesitant of the three conspirators. He’s a drunken sleuth-wannabe and he is pissed off at Lyle for getting him into the whole scam in the first place. He calls Lyle, who is supporting him, to his place in California. When Lyle gets there, Vinnie steals his car and his ticket back to Kentucky and goes there, taking the incriminating photographs with him. His intention: to steal Lyle’s wife Rosie (Sharon Stone) away from him.
Lyle finds out about this and sends Vinnie’s girlfriend Cicilia (Catherine Keener) off after him. Her dream, conveniently, is to go to the Kentucky Derby and Lyle promises her box seats if she can only persuade Vinnie to give her the photographs. In Kentucky she tries to track him down and runs into the very same commissioner Lyle and Vinnie photographed.
And after all is said and done, the final question racing through my mind was: so what? What is this Lyle character trying so desperately to protect? The absolute worst-case scenario for these people is a god damn blackmail charge and a loss of a few thousand dollars. This is not worth a full-length feature. I’m not sure what director Matthew Warchus was trying to do here; was he trying to glitz-up the script with weird imagery, big stars and a whiny score just so we wouldn’t see just how unmysterious the plot’s mystery is?
The cast is astonishingly good and all but one of the stars make the most of the material. Jeff Bridges can project intensity like no other working actor and he uses his skill here. Hunched up and desperate for most of the movie, his performance manages to be taut though we have little idea just what it is he is getting so worked up about. Nick Nolte is almost endearing as the frizzy-haired drunk dreamer; I’m not sure if that was the intended effect, but I liked it either way. Catherine Keener is the one who has to play it straight and she’s good for the part. The weak link in the cast, surprisingly, is Sharon Stone, who is simply dreadful as Bridges’s ceaselessly drunk wife. She is given an important, emotional scene in the climax, which she pulls off well, but otherwise her performance is a total mess.
The film’s last ten minutes are oddly powerful as a lot of things happen in a short amount of time. But that’s the only thing that works and it doesn’t in any way redeem the absurdity that came before it. Simpatico has a nice style, some good performances and a lot of pretty horses, but what the hell is it supposed to be about?
-- Eugene Novikov
|Starring:||Nick Nolte, Sharon Stone, Jeff Bridges, Catherine Keener|
|Directed by:||Matthew Warchus|