If you’re still casting about for something to see in the dog days of summer, here’s my take on a few new ones out or streaming online now!
ZIPPER: No, it’s not a thriller about a tailer with a yen for alterations. It’s drama about a straight arrow politician with an addiction to escorts. The handsome Patrick Wilson looking a bit like a young Paul Newman plays Sam Ellis, an aspiring congressman with a wife and child who’s about to blow his image. A comely intern (Dianna Agron) makes a drunken pass at him in a dark alley after a work function one night. He resists, but the seed is, um, planted.
Wilson’s Ellis is a tense guy who works out, showers frequently, and always looks like he’s about to break a sweat. When a professional escort shows up as a witness for the prosecution (it’s hard to tell her apart from the rest of the women in the office where cleavage-revealing cocktail dresses and spike heels seem to be the dress code) Ellis does a good job of looking appalled, while being turned on. He makes the call and is soon in thrall to hotel room trysts with random strangers.
Why stray from home? Wife Jeannie played by Lena Headey is tall, dark, and sexy in a foreboding Lady Macbeth meets Maleficent kind of way. The air around them seems pretty charged. In an initial phone conversation we hear the “F” word flung around the kitchen; back and forth during a loaded phone conversation Jeannie teasingly mutters “F- you” while stirring the pasta as little Johnny sits at the kitchen table. At the film’s climax her heretofore creeping ambition gets up on all fours and erupts in a stunning act of carnal horse trading. Next to her, our man on the political make seems a tightly wound wimp.
The movie traffics easily in the standard cliches about weak men and too powerful women. But Wilson does a good job of sustaining our interest, and the film goes a bit farther than expected by letting us catch a glimpse of who these “escorts” really are beneath the elegant, upscale, “professional” veneer. Good supporting work by Richard Dreyfuss and Ray Winstone.
DIGGING FOR FIRE: If only they’d found it. This is an improvised experiment of a film with a killer cast, about a married couple Tim and Lee (Jake Johnson and Rosemarie DeWitt) with a young child (writer/director Joe Swanberg’s own son) housesitting in a swanky woodland pad, when they discover a gun and a bone in the back yard. The wife says “leave it alone,” and takes off with their child to visit her parents (Judith Light and Sam Elliott) for the weekend. The husband stays and is supposedly doing their taxes, but instead decides to go digging for the body that might be buried out back.
What they each discover is a bit of freedom and perspective– her with a sexy restaurant chef subtly played by Orlando Bloom, and him with his drinking buddies among them, a nebbishy Mike Birbiglia, a randy Sam Rockwell, and a swaggering Chris Messina who brings along a couple of good time girls played by frisky Anna Kendrick and a sympatico Brie Larson, a potential romantic liaison.
The script is improvised as is the camera work, and the results are sometimes shapeless scenes that beg for editing, while others are small observant slices of unexpected real life. Lee’s not literally digging, but she’s restless too; her scenes with the smooth as silk Orlando are the most satisfying. But ultimately the film never successfully makes the connection between what Tim is digging for and what they both fear. As the responsibilities of marriage and parenthood threaten their solo identities, we know they’re ultimately digging for themselves. But the traces of mortality uncovered here left me wanting Tim to keep digging for more. Alas, poor Yorick, “Digging for Fire” fizzles out.