The Gingerbread Man

The Gingerbread Man

***

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Robert Altman claims that he doesn't have a style. He makes movies, that's all. Aficionados see this as Bob's intrinsic modesty. Watching The Gingerbread Man, you understand what he's talking about. There is nothing to indicate that the fabled director of M.A.S.H and Nashville has been here.

It's all in the plot, which, ultimately, leaps over credulity's cliff. Rick Magruder (Kenneth Branagh) is a hotshot Savannah attorney. You know he's hot because he doesn't treat office staff with common courtesy. He expects to be obeyed and has that dynamic energy wives learn to fear and single women find irresistable.

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His own wife left him for catting around. Branagh is excellent as a workaholic control freak, but the Lothario stuff is definitely not his bag. He avoids impersonating Alec Baldwin, thank God, and keeps charm corked, which feels right. Magruder sees life as a car accident - race to the scene, ascertain the facts, keep ahead of the authorities. He's not a sentimental man, although loves his kids, which means taking them to the park at weekends and buying ice cream.

One night he becomes involved with a waitress (Embeth Davidtz), who, quite cleverly, seduces him. Perhaps "seduce" is too sophisticated a word. He drives her home - it's blowing a hurricane - and she invites him in. It appears someone has been there first. While he searches for the intruder, she takes her kit off. As well as a firm, lean body, Magruder discovers she has a story to tell. Her daddy's deranged and stalks her. She's scared to be alone.

He calls in Robert Downey Jr to do some overacting - he plays a private dick with a drinks prob. Bad daddy (Robert Duvall in uncompromising form) is institutionalised. His fundamentalist buds spring him from the funny farm. Magruder's kids are snatched. Things get seriously out of hand, as the weather turns nasty.

In the end, the story twists itself stupid. Davidtz gives an intense, captivating performance. She was Ralph Fiennes' pet slave in Schindler's List and has the saddest face in movies. Branagh's Georgia accent splinters any doubts that this man is worth the money. He's uniquely unHollywood. He doesn't attempt to make you like him.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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A lawyer falls for a one-night stand girl and tries to protect her from her father.
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Director: Robert Altman

Writer: Al Hayes

Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Embeth Davidtz, Robert Downey Jr., Daryl Hannah, Tom Berenger, Famke Janssen, Mae Whitman, Jesse James, Robert Duvall, Clyde Hayes, Troy Beyer

Year: 1998

Runtime: 114 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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