The Minus Man (1999)
Director: Hampton Fancher
Sweet, harmless looking Vann (Wilson) relocates to a small town. He moves in with husband and wife Doug (Cox) and Jane (Ruehl), taking residency in the empty bedroom of their disappeared daughter. But Vann isn’t what he seems to be, inside he’s a serial killer with a void who is very subtle about the way he dispatches of his victims. Vann gets a job at the post office, seems to be falling in love with a co-worker (Garofalo) and maybe a chance at a "normal" life is possible. But when town folks begin to disappear mysteriously, the heat is on him and his chance at a normal life is put in jeopardy.
Talking too much about the specifics of Minus Man’s plot would be ruining it. So I’ll try to be as vague as its title character. This a film that bathes in ambiguity. Starting with the main character played by the face twitching "Owen Wilson". Who is Vann? Well Vann is nobody and everybody. He is what you want him to be. Why does he feel the urge to kill? At first I thought it was all about pity killing, ending the life of people who are better off dead, but Vann quickly proved me wrong. Does he feel or does he pretend to feel?…who knows? So who is Vann and why does he do the things he does? I don’t know.
Since Vann is the narrator of the film, the movie is seen through his eyes. A film told through the eyes of an enigmatic lead makes for a for a very ambiguous story. Many questions are left un answered once the credits roll down and I don’t think a second viewing of the film would answer them.
The place we may find a few clues concerning our blonde protagonist is in the scenes that take place in his head with the two imaginary cops. I know those scenes must reveal something…I just don’t know exactly what it is.
Vann is not the only vague character in this piece. Doug (Cox) is also full of surprises. By the end of the film you won’t know who he really is either. That’s all I’ll say.
The film is filled with small subtle elements that either are there to serve the story or are there for no purpose but to be there.
I will admit that viewing a film this vague is at times frustrating but fascinating at the same time. The pace sometimes lagged and gave me the impression nothing was going on (when everything was going on).
In the end I admire the different direction this film take. It’s also beautifully shot, has some humor and wonderful quirky performances. Let's try to get inside this one's head…
This is the first serial killer movie I have ever seen where violence is almost totally absent. This film is not about that, but it is, but it isn’t…no gore.
Owen Wilson (Vann) plays one of the more interesting "nut" in a film since Anthony Perkins' turn in "Psycho". He’s all boyish charm and I couldn’t find it in me to hate him. With his weird smile and surfer blonde hair, Vann is a very sympathetic serial killer. Brian Cox (Doug) blew me out of my seat, his character and performance are full of surprises, everytime I thought I had the character pinned down he would do something off the wall (like beat himself). Delivered with his usual passion, Cox steals the show in this one. I was never a fan of Mercedes Ruehl (Jane) but in this flick she appealed to me, playing her sad, angry part to a T. Janeane Garofalo (Ferrin) plays against type, here she’s bubbly, naive and sweet. Surprisingly it works! We also get appearances by Crow Salvation star Eric Mabius (small part), Dwight Yoakum (playing a cop) and Sheryl Crow playing herself (an alcoholic).
T & A
None, the film doesn’t need any distractions.
This is Fancher’s first film. On a visual standpoint it plays like a dream. Everything seems real but there’s an eerie feel floating through out the movie. Fancher pulls off the humor and the sadness but making the murders so subtle took away from their impact...I think that was the point. A confident, non conventional first foray into filmmaking.
A subtle sad score that points to the main character’s state of mind.
If having all the answers once a movie is over is a necessity for you, skip this one. If you can’t see past the mainstream look somewhere else. Minus Man is an odd little "art house" flick. It’s all about layers, subtleties and questions. This applies not only to it’s characters but to it’s story too. Like the character of Vann you don’t really understand where this flick is coming from or where it’s going. But that doesn’t make it any less fascinating. This is a different kind of horror film, a horror film so quiet that you might be fooled in thinking it isn’t one. But trust me it is.
Owen Wilson is not the only actor in the family. Luke Wilson (Home Fries, Rushmore) is his brother.