“He Was a Quiet Man” opens with 15 minutes of taut, temptingly deranged filmmaking, exploring the unhinged rattle of a Dilbert-like drone ready to turn the lights out on his hellish office experience with a hail of bullets. It’s a delirious introduction of an archetypal repressed maniac, and it launches this mysterious indie film off on a promising note of sublime satiric chaos. Then the rest of the film happens.
Bob Maconel (Christian Slater) is a mentally unstable man toiling away in a lonely cubicle where he’s constantly disrespected by his superiors. Dreaming of murdering his co-workers, Bob is beaten to the punch by a fellow office nut, who Bob shoots in defense, branding him a hero. Soon promoted by his boss (William H. Macy) to suspicious vocational heights, Bob is left to deal with Vanessa (Elisha Cuthbert), his object of workplace desire now paralyzed and suicidal as a result of the shooting.
While perhaps unfair, it’s interesting to mention that writer/director Frank A. Cappello’s first screenplay was for the 1991 Hulk Hogan kiddie comedy “Suburban Commando.” I guess when you start your career off on that note, it’s inevitable that you’ll make a film about the cancerous decent into insanity.
Gathering cues from all over the cinematic map, from “Falling Down” to “Office Space,” Cappello’s “Quiet Man” is familiar terrain, but his approach squeezes some zest into the finished product. It’s a more puzzling film than it initially implies, and I was enamored with its mean streak in the early going: a sweaty, feverish Bob cheerfully loading his gun at his desk, or Bob bringing a red button with him on his lunch break to fantasize what blowing up his office building would feel like. It’s this sick sense of humor that lends surprise to the film; the rare feeling of watching something predictable turn impulsive and interested in subversive dramatic endeavors.
The nightmare is enhanced by Slater’s gonzo performance. It’s great to see the once mighty king of cool challenged in “Quiet Man” with a complex role that Slater bites down hard on. Losing himself behind fake teeth and a horrible complexion, Slater’s take on Bob is an insular piece, since madness has lulled the character into his own world over the years, leaving Bob conversing with his pet fish or having his suicide note all ready to go, laminated on the fridge. It’s all routine and blinky paranoia for Bob, and Slater puts in an incredible effort.
Cuthbert is equally engaging as the wounded, defiant Vanessa, but her role plays into the dramatic quandaries “Quiet Man” faces when it looks beyond Bob’s rage. Morphing into something of a romance, Bob and Vanessa form a bond that recalls Vanessa’s former role of a ruthless opportunist, leaving the reality of her feelings a nice hook for the film to toy with. However, there are several painful scenes of cutesy bonding that are either damaged by Cappello’s cringing execution, or just stunningly ineffective in basic conception (a karaoke scene comes immediately to mind). There’s no reason this subplot should lack the fangs prevalent in the rest of the film.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1 aspect ratio), the low-budget of the film really shows throughout the DVD experience. Black levels and fleshtones are a complete mess, and the image in some scenes is “grained” up to such a degree, it looked pixelated on my display.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix fares much better, dishing out robust sound effects that blend well with the dialogue and soundtrack selections. Gunshots and explosion also show considerable heft.
A feature-length audio commentary from director Frank Cappello reveals the filmmaker to be a jovial speaker, completely enamored with his movie. It’s a pleasant quality to have, but Cappello’s attitude sours when he assumes superiority over his audience, often explaining material viewers “didn’t get” and boastful of the picture’s daredevil qualities. There’s plenty of great information on the low-budget challenges of the film and Cappello’s homemade special effects, but it’s tough to stomach his low-frequency bravado at times, especially when the film can’t quite back up such pride.
A collection of deleted/alternate scenes (20 minutes) restore more of Bob’s edges and deepen his isolation, and even offers actor Michael DeLuise (here as a cop) some lines. Two alternate endings show Cappello was initially reaching for more psychological extremes to conclude his movie on. Dumping them was wise.
“First Look at ‘He Was a Quiet Man'” (10 minutes) sits down with Cappello and producer Mike Leahy to discuss the making of the film. Working off a camcorder microphone, the sound is atrocious, but the featurette contains a wealth of interesting behind-the-scenes footage.
And finally, a theatrical trailer is included.
“Quiet Man” is more intriguing as a document of a rotted mind, and thankfully Cappello hugs tight to this exploration. The film runs out of ideas toward the end (replaced by gimmicky camerawork), but it slows down the movie instead of stopping it in its tracks. It has just enough of a kick left in the script to scrounge up a tart finale that’s grandiose, yet oddly organic with the rest of this unusual picture.Rating: B