Tuesday, September 08, 2009

"Zero Effect" (1998) - Movie Review

The toughest riddle’s answer is the most easiest when it is revealed. Daryl Zero (Bill Pullman) reads that answer like a common sense and it is common sense to the audience once it sees the light and once it is spurted out by this peculiar private investigator as a fact of life. This is the man who we know will crack the case in hand, at ease, so what is the suspense in “Zero Effect”? The writing much reminding of David Mamet but not as copy cat but carrying the property of that skill is a sweet meal to relish. Then is the fluidity of the story, which follows a step but comes in quite surprises, not dangerous but curious. Written and directed by Jake Kasdan which marked his debut, this is the professionalism at its best in giving a story and being sharp in serving it.

Running inspiration from the Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, this establishes in the five minutes into the scene describing the anatomy of Daryl Zero’s skill, character and aloofness through his associate Steve Arlo (Ben Stiller). Arlo is meeting a client in Portland, Gregory Stark (Ryan O’Neal) as Daryl does not come out of the four walls he lives in. This as unusual it sounds is the curse of the gifted. Many brainiacs personally I know of are a recluse. They are in their world of paranoid and detachment and so is Daryl Zero. He can tell the nature of the profession one is involved in with the whiff of the air near them but cannot keep himself together in the loneliness of his dark room. He sets up ridiculous rendezvous with Arlo to be not detected and makes him go back and forth Los Angeles and then he visits L.A the same night. He is unpredictable.

The case in hand is about a stressed up rich man who lost his key a year back. The thing about the key is that it has the key to a safety box which he cannot tell Arlo what is in it. After the lost key, he is getting black mailed by a highly talented and equally clever as that of Zero of making the drop of the money in a series of convoluted and clustered routine. Zero cracks it around midway into the story, we know the blackmailer. So what is the suspense in it? It is what happens and unfolds between the black mailer and Zero.

It treats the story and its characters with morality and then as the object of entertainment. Zero’s policy is to have the utmost objectivity and observation, the two obs as he calls it. The method he likes to keep record of in the fascination of his success in solving the puzzle, decoding the people and knowing before it happens. He is smart and knows it. He knows he is the best and demands the respect out of his only known audience, his associate Arlo. Arlo is patient of his employer’s behaviour. But he is losing it with his girl friend Jess (Angela Featherstone) because of Zero’s job nature.

Bill Pullman is a versatile actor whose roles and choices goes unnoticed. He seem to be repetitive but here he gets the character out of Zero. He is how much ever clandestine he aspires to be is vulnerable to human emotions in nakedness. He receives such a candid expose of that dose from Gloria Sullivan (Kim Dickens). He poses as an accountant and helps her get the tax returns filed (which he of course has no clue and gets a crash course education through phone from Arlo). Never forget the receipts, he says and they dine together when he opens up. We would expect him to get up and leave or lose himself out of his act when Gloria questions about his past and family. He stays and brings himself completely together to look into her eyes which he cannot keep on looking. He begins to recite the dreadful past and we know he is not making it up. He is genuine in his eyes and in the pain of being who he is. Pullman does a translation for his audience in the techniques he involves in cracking the case while at the same time stays under the radar to his client and the people he follows up to get information. This is the varied Pullman I have seen and he is great to watch as he begins to mount the steps to craziness making Arlo’s life a traveling mess.

“Zero Effect” is the sharpest and straight story I have seen lately. The clarity in its understanding of the people and the dialogues they speak can be seen written by the man thinking it over. And yet it is not awkward but a narrow dance in the art of presenting an intelligence over indulgence. Daryl Zero becomes a complete person at the end of the film rounding him up with the emotional fraction he was devoid of. That which happens is not imposed but happens. It seems right and the contrivance of that romance is as much clever and convincing as its titular character’s unraveling of the case.

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