Daryl Duke’s The Silent Partner

If you think Billy Bob Thornton was a Bad Santa wait until you see Christopher Plummer in The Silent Partner, he gives him a run for his money and then some as a psychopathic, profoundly evil criminal who hits a Toronto bank for all its worth disguised as the local mall Santa. Only problem is, shrewd bank teller Elliot Gould realizes he’s going to do it while he’s still casing the joint, steals all the cash for himself minutes before the hit, and thinks he’s got away with it. Plummer is also a smart dude here and not the kind of fellow you want to pull a stunt like that on, soon he comes around looking for the money he believes to rightfully be his and so ensues a vicious game of cat, mouse and morally bankrupt working professional as these two individuals, one not particularly likeable and the other downright abhorrent, battle each other for the prize. Two girls are involved with both of them, confused fellow bank teller Susannah York and French Canadian femme fatale Céline Lolez but they end up being more collateral damage in the narrative than anything else. So… this film has a huge cult following, glowing reputation and overall hype surrounding it and I wish I could fully get onboard with that, but I just wasn’t as taken by it as many seem to have been. I liked it, I didn’t love it. Let’s start with the film’s strongest asset: Christopher goddamn Plummer. The man goes fully into bizarro world here to play this character, and the guy is a villain for the ages. Heinously violent, gruesomely misogynistic, volcanically volatile, decked out in super femme eyeshadow and heaps of mascara and decorated with bangles of silver bling on every limb, he’s a flamboyantly nasty piece of work and steals the film, whether he’s being an evil Santa or showing up in drag which he gets to do later on. Gould plays his bank teller as very intelligent but also very awkward and somehow stilted in expression and line delivery, I couldn’t really get a sense of his character beyond stoic idiosyncrasy and I feel like he’s an actor who perhaps didn’t find his groove until later in his career when he appeared in stuff like Ocean’s 11, where he’s far more engaging and charismatic than this younger incarnation. Roger Ebert raved about this one being a taut, clockwork tight narrative and I kind of feel different.. the first and third acts are terrifically suspenseful, exciting and ruthless but the film’s midsection wastes a lot of runtime on languid romantic subplots featuring the two girls that don’t add much overall, don’t feel believable with a guy as odd as Gould’s character having that much game with the ladies and bog the narrative momentum down quite a bit. Still, when the film is in its highest gear it’s quite a mean machine, especially when Plummer has anything to say or do about it, which he does. Careful with this one if you’re sensitive about violence towards women, there’s a couple sequences that push the envelope on that just about are far as you can go (even by 1978 standards) and are tough to watch. I found this to be a good if not great suspense thriller with some very well done set pieces and plot turns, and one truly despicable turn from Plummer, who is also playing very against type and loving it. Not as much of a gem for me as it was for a lot of others, but definitely worth a watch.

-Nate Hill

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