Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Jason re-reviews THE ARISTOCRAT

So the second movie I saw last Saturday was THE ARISTOCRAT. I had a review up, then at the request of the director Greg Croteau I took it down for being too spoilerific. With his permission (in that he said I could go ahead and put it back up once he had his Tuesday night screening), I will include the original in this post.

But the exercise got me thinking about spoilers, which is something I struggle with constantly. Sometimes (probably too often) I fail, but my general rule is too not give away much more than is in the festival program. For this film, the program notes included the line, "This classic tale of grifters will leave you wondering who's schooling who in the business." I could argue that I actually gave away less than this (I will not address the question of whether the festival showed good judgement in their program notes).

But I have thought a lot about this film, spoilers, and particularly how to describe this film without spoilers. It's a pretty tough chore. So I will now present three takes on the film (the middle one being my original review) in increasing order of spoilerificness.

Take 1 as spoiler-free as I could make it:
THE ARISTOCRAT is the story Marc Ward, a travelling salesman who is looking to quit the business. He trains his replacement, Eddie Kent. Eddie is charismatic and confident, but thinks he can sell just by running his mouth instead of listening to the customer. Over the course of a few days he and Marc bond. Then fairly late in the movie there's a twist and you get to see the previous events in a whole new light. There were two big reveals to me--everything else I had already guessed so some of the re-hashing of events was unnecessary. But still, it's an interesting structure that's anchored by some fantastic performances.

Take 2, my original review, judge for yourself how spoilerific it is:
This is word for word the review I posted Saturday night/Sunday morning, and took down after receiving an e-mail from the director:
I hesitate to say it's about a con, since that would be a spoiler if it wasn't so darn obvious. Marc Ward is a travelling salesman in 1989 (just before cell phones became commonplace). He's ready to quit and do something else, maybe pursue his passion for stained glass art. But first he has to train the new guy, brash young Eddie Kent. They meet with customers, drink a lot, Eddie realizes that Marc has a thing for Becca, the cute girl who always has breakfast in the same diner as Marc. But soon after Eddie 'runs into' his old pal Flodie, it becomes clear there's something more at work. The film is structured in a very interesting way, with Marc's story told all the way through and then the same scenes shown from Eddie's point of view. This reveals a few new twists, but a lot of it was unnecessary. It's still a pretty tight story with a lot of great acting (particularly Jeff Gill as Marc), but I think a little more before and (especially) after scene of Eddie's story would have been more rewarding.

In fact, I'll now talk about things you need to have seen the movie to understand, so if you haven't seen it not only will this spoil it, this also won't make much sense. Here we go:

In the Q&A at the screening I saw, someone asked what happened to Marc afterwards. I agree with Greg Croteau's take on it, and more importantly, I didn't think that was the interesting "what happens next?" question. I was more interested in what happened next for Eddie, particularly after Flodie discovers the diamonds are fake. So I concocted a story in my head, and fashioned it into a hypothetical movie I like a little better. I think Flodie tracks Eddie and kills him. And in my hypothetical movie, we start with the police questioning Marc (or maybe we don't see who they're questioning at first). Then we go through Marc's story. We have the twist that changes it to Eddie's story, but a little more abbreviated. Then we end with the cops having to let Marc go for lack of evidence, but maybe they still believe he did it. In fact, maybe we never see conclusively whether Marc did it or Flodie did it (or some third person), leaving that as the "big question" at the end. And then maybe Marc gets into a car with Becca and leaves (I just stuck that in there because I'm a romantic, that probably wouldn't really work).

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