Directed by Matthew Warchus
Review by Matt Heffernan
Hollywood is pretty lucky to have Sam Shepard. He is a Pulitzer-winning playwrite and accomplished stage actor. Of course, he also writes screenplays (Paris, Texas) and has an enormously successful film acting career (The Right Stuff, Snow Falling on Cedars). He even directs films, and every so often one of his plays is filmed. Ah, but that last one's a problem. I'm not a big fan of adapting plays to film and vice versa. Simpatico only goes to show that it rarely works, even when you have top-notch actors playing Shepard characters.
Vinnie Webb (Nick Nolte) lives in California, where he spends his time drinking and pretending to be a private investigator to impress women. He calls his old friend from Kentucky, Lyle Carter (Jeff Bridges), to help him get out of a harassment charge from Cecilia (Catherine Keener), the latest target of his scam. Lyle agrees to help him out so that Vinnie will finally hand over the evidence of a horse-racing scam they pulled together many years ago. While Lyle is talking to Cecilia, Vinnie takes off in his car, stealing Lyle's wallet and plane ticket back to Kentucky, with a shoebox full of incriminating photographs and letters.
In Kentucky, Vinnie looks up Darryl Simms (Albert Finney), the man they blackmailed to take the fall for their scam. He intends to give Simms the opportunity to clear his name, thereby relieving Vinnie of his guilt. He also seeks out Lyle's wife Rosie (Sharon Stone), who was his girlfriend and instrumental in pulling off the scam that ended their relationship.
With such brilliant characterizations, Simpatico could have been that rare exception of a great film based on a play. Nolte is especially gritty and pathetic, giving one of his best performances in recent years. Indeed, this is a good example of a film noir plot, but first-time director Matthew Warchus forgot about the "film" part. A great deal of the scenes are naturally lit, and even the interiors are rather pleasant, save the wonderfully dingy office of Simms. All the darkness is in the characters, and Warchus simply chooses to point the camera at the actors and let them do their thing.
There are some interesting flashbacks interspersed with the main action that show how the scam was done. Shawn Hatosy, Liam Waite, and Kimberly Williams play younger versions of Vinnie, Lyle, and Rosie, respectively. They provide some relief from the stagey action, and help clarify the history of the main characters. But it was probably Shepard's intent to slowly reveal it through the modern sequences, which would make the flashbacks a compromise of the film, and not an entirely positive addition.
Still, I would recommend seeing this film, considering the rest of Hollywood's offerings at this time. Having such great actors together is a rarity, but they could have accomplished something much better.
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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan