Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
The Silent Partner is a wonderful sleeper that most viewers saw in the first years of cable television screenings. It's the kind of low-profile neo-noir thriller that wouldn't become popular for a few more years. The clever, tense script by Curtis Hanson (White Dog, L.A. Confidential) finds new twists in old crime capers, setting up a tense battle of wits between Elliott Gould's amateur crook and Christopher Plummer's genuinely scary robber. When things get rough The Silent Partner doesn't go soft; it backs up its threats with some nerve-jangling gore.
Timid bank teller Miles Cullen (Elliott Gould) never acts on his instincts, repeatedly backing away from involvement with his interested co-worker Julie Carver (Susannah York). But when he realizes that a mall Santa Claus is monitoring deposits at his teller window and is going to rob him, Miles puts a daring plan into operation: Keep most of the cash for himself and let the robber get away with just a few bills. The idea works beautifully until the thief Harry Reikle (Christopher Plummer) confronts Miles, demanding "his" money. Cullen finds himself in a secret partnership with a homicidal maniac, and must retaliate with his own dirty tricks to keep the cash, stay out of jail -- and stay alive.
The talented director Daryl Duke (Payday) has an uneven film career; his admirers were always waiting for him to break through with a big success. The Silent Partner enjoys a stealth reputation among thriller fans but otherwise is not well known. This DVD release should win Mr. Duke many more fans.
Curtis Hanson's taut script is a variation on The Secret Sharer, in hard-boiled crime mode. Milquetoast clerk Elliott Gould's Miles Cullen has two secret desires: to bed the boss's mistress and abscond with the receipts from his place of employment, an upscale Toronto mall. He doesn't know how he'll do either until he predicts that a robbery is about to happen. Miles pulls a simple cash-box switcheroo and the pistol-packing Santa at his teller window is forced to flee relatively empty handed. The authorities assume that the crook took the $50,000, when most of it is hidden in a bag at Cullen's feet. 1
The path to the perfect crime doesn't end there. Christopher Plummer's sadistic Harry Reikle takes out his frustration by beating up a woman, and then puts the pressure on Cullen to fork over the cash. Neither crook can call the police without exposing his own culpability. The terrifying, murderous Reikle has the definite edge. But Miles is smart enough to know that giving Reikle the money is no solution, as the maniac will undoubtedly kill him just for fun. Cullen instead frames the crook for another crime, starting the ball rolling on a deadly game of tit for tat.
Adding further confusion to Miles' schemes, a regulation dusky dame comes into the picture. Elaine (Céline Lopez) is a sweet nurse who took care of Miles' elderly father and liked Miles' looks when she saw him on television ... or so she says. If that's not enough of a complication, Julie Carver may have already figured out Miles' entire caper. Is her amorous interest stimulated by his newly discovered boldness, or his secret bank account?
The Silent Partner is beautifully paced and plotted with sexy and shocking surprises. Miles' tropical fish aquarium becomes the focus of several scary scenes, in sort of a gruesome precursor to A Fish Called Wanda. The deadly Reikle turns out to be both a fearsome adversary and a genuine master of disguise. Daryl Duke anchors the story in the everyday routine at the bank, with its various company intrigues. The manager is carrying on an affair with Julie. Julie would rather be with Miles, if Miles would only stop acting like Clark Kent. One amorous make-out scene goes cold when Miles is interrupted by Reikle's phone threats. Julie has little choice but to decide that Miles is some kind of a nut.
A fringe benefit is a small contribution by Second City star John Candy, as another teller who falls in love with the bank's sexy new trainee (Gail Dahms). Miles' reticence with his co-workers reflects his reluctance to fall into the same pattern of petty philandering. He has bigger ambitions.
Elliott Gould uses his bag of 'cute' acting tricks, but his Miles Cullen also has the backbone of a determined poker player, making him an underdog hero. Christopher Plummer hadn't seen all that much screen time since his "G"- rated turn in The Sound of Music. He's a revelation as the utterly uninhibited villain, easily besting all but the most violent giallo killers in the savagery department. Susannah York paints an interesting picture as the frustrated Julie, stuck in an unfulfilling affair with her boss. Céline Lomez' Elaine sees herself as a conquering siren, but is actually far more at risk even than Miles ... she already carries scars, 'love pats' from Harry Reikle.
Lionsgate's DVD of The Silent Partner is a welcome surprise; early reports that it would be a full-frame transfer have proved untrue. The enhanced color transfer is excellent overall. For some reason, optical sections are recorded at a markedly lower quality, with flat colors and heightened grain. This includes the entire opening title sequence. As soon as the movie proper gets going, the transfer is fine.
No extras are provided, which is a shame. The Silent Partner is the exception to the rule, an independent film without a marketable cast or exploitation hook, yet ends up superior in all departments. It also apparently had marketing difficulties, as the DVD promoters have cobbled together a package design with an image having nothing to do with the movie. The walking figures look like something from Reservoir Dogs. Then again, how many DVDs would be sold with a picture of Elliott Gould counting out change at a teller's window?
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, The Silent Partner rates:
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: March 31, 2007
Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.
1. I assume that real-world banking procedures would prevent a bank employee like Miles Cullen from pulling off this particular heist .... I mean, are tellers really allowed to keep personal bags and containers beneath their cash drawers?
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson
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