Other Voices (2000)

Sundance Film Fest 2000 (Dramatic Competition)–Reflecting the zeitgeist as we cross into the new millennium, Other Voices, Dan McCormack's sharply-observed feature debut, takes familiar issues, such as the impersonality of corporate life, the breakdown of interpersonal communication, and the loss of identity and explores them as they define and handicap one modern marriage.

Imbued with the same emotional intensity and dark humor that marked McCormack's one-hour drama, Minotaur, new film exhibits a terrific cast, headed by Campbell Scott, who gives his most exuberant and outrageous performance to date. Other Voices is marred by some narrative and cutting flaws, mostly evident in the last reel, some of which could be corrected in the editing room. Nonetheless, pic should please mature, educated audiences seeking non-traditional entertainment and willing to go for a wild Kafkaesque ride, set in a nocturnally ominous New York.

Obviously inspired by Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf and possibly Harold Pinter's one-acter The Lover, McCormack dissects the complex, problematic bond between Phil (David aaron Baker) and Anna (Mary McCormack), a young couple whose marriage seems to be on the rocks. The opening close-up, showing the couple as they wake up with the anxiety of facing another tumultuous day, sends alarming signals that things are not as they should be.

It soon becomes clear that the issue, for both Phil and Anna, is their shaky belief in their commitment to their bond–each suspects the other of infidelity. Indeed, in the first act, Anna confides in her eccentric psychiatrist, Dr. Grover (Stockard Channing) that she is seeing another man, and Phil shares his secret with John (Scott), his wildly unpredictable friend, that he is dating another woman. Feeling that their nine-year-marriage is rapidly disintegrating, the duo is willing to do anything to save their relationship.

Dr. Glover, a therapist with her own set of phobias, is shocked at how lightly Anna takes her extra-marital affair, whereas John comes up with a more “pragmatic” idea, why not seek the services of one of the city's best private eyes, Jordin (Peter Gallagher, sporting a thick French accent). A meeting in a chic restaurant with John and Jordin manages to scare Phil even more of the potential harmful results of using the sleuth's services.

Helmer McCormack is effective at showing how easily things spiral out of control. Before long, Phil is followed and beaten by Mink (Ricky Aiello), Jordin's brutish thug. Also thrown into the labyrinth is Jeff (Rob Morrow), Anna's problematic, unstable brother, who, after listening to Anna's complaints, engages in spying too, rushing to the hotel, where his sister is supposed to have a fateful rendez-vous with her lover.

After an hour of suspense, with each encounter that Phil has with John getting more and more sinister and menacing, the yarn discloses that the dangerous games Phil and Anna have been playing involve assuming different identities for sexual gratification. Echoing the central idea of Pinter's The Lover, Phil and Anna rent an apartment, where they engage in steamy, impersonal sex–then jealously spy on each other. And like Albee's George and Martha the spouses delay the moment of truth, when they have to stop playing their liaisons dangeureux and face the crushing reality.

In its good moments, picture recalls Scorsese's After Hours and other yuppie angst movies that came out in the mid-1980s. Sprinkled with witty lines, dark humor, and irony, McCormack show how the metropolis called New York has become an unmanageable urban landscape, one that not only fails to provide stability and order, but actually accentuates every sort of anxiety related to the Big City.

Occasionally, the film lays too heavily its messages, especially the notions of how precarious is the desire to find truth and hold on to it, and how our increasingly corrupt and bureaucratic society prevents people from maintaining personal identity and integrity. Unfortunately, the last reel is weak and meandering, dominated by an unnecessary long chase scene between John and Mink throughout typical urban locales, climaxing in a diner. Substantial cuts of at least 10 minutes will make the storytelling smoother and more engaging–and also improve theatrical prospects.

A good ensemble almost overcomes the picture's shortcomings. Though nominally he is not the lead, Scott shines throughout the narrative, delivering his lines with commendable authority and bravura timing and enlightening every scene he is in. Rumor has it that Scott was originally set to play the straightlaced yuppie Phil (a variation of roles he has done before), and producers should be saluted for casting him against type. As the upscale couple, fearful of facing marriage's inevitably resultng routine, McCormack and Baker look and behave credibly, emotionally pulling the audience to their parts. Rest of the troupe, in what's arguably the best-cast movie in competition, is flawless, with standout turns from Channing and Morrow.

Unlike many of his peers, McCormack is a filmmaker whose writing and helming skills are equally matched by a powerful, often elegant visual conception. Here, as in Minotaur, he's assisted by the extremely talented Gillham whose lensing and framing contributes immeasurably to pic's persistently ominous ambience, also aided by Fred wardell's barbed cutting and William T. Stromberg's evocative music.

Credits

A Charny/Strong production. Produced by Ruth Charny and Shelly Strong. Executive producer, Robert Baruc. Co-producer, Alicia Reilly-Larson. Directed, written by Dan McCormack. Camera (Fotokem, color), Dan Gillham; editor, Fred Wardell; supervising editor, Martin Hunter; music, William T. Stromberg; production design, Michael Krantz; costume design, Catherine Thomas; line producer, Jonathan Shoemaker; casting, Billy Hopkins, Suzanne Smith, Kerry Barden, Mark Bennett.

Running time: 104 min.

Cast

Anna…………Mary McCormack
Phil………David Aaron Baker
John…………Campbell Scott
Jeff…………….Rob Morrow
Dr. Grover…Stockard Channing
Jordin………Peter Gallagher
Mink…………..Ricky Aiello