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GINGERBREAD MAN, THE

SYNOPSIS:
Lawyer Rick Magruder (Kenneth Branagh) is separated from his wife – acrimoniously. He sees his two little kids whenever he can – sometimes running late, often because he is still sleeping off his latest conquest. After one such one-night-stand with Mallory Doss (Embeth Davidtz) a waitress at a corporate function who is distressed after her car is apparently stolen, he is ‘involved’. When he discovers that her violent, unpredictable father Dixon (Robert Duvall) is threatening her, he brings the strength of his law firm behind Mallory, has Dixon arrested and subpoenas her ex-husband Pete (Tom Berenger) to testify against Dixon in court. Although sent to an asylum, Dixon escapes and becomes a threat. When Magruder’s little kids disappear, his instant reaction is to track down the mad old Dixon. Events escalate as he loses control, and finally realises there is another game that’s being played, and he’s just a pawn.

"Best to see thrillers like this knowing as little about them as possible, I suggest. Especially if the film has a pedigree, and even more so if that pedigree is of an unexpected parentage. This one qualifes: Altman out of Grisham. The iconoclast in Altman and the schemer in Grisham make a marvellous movie combination – wish there was more of it, actually. (Coppola’s take on Grisham’s Rainmaker was another….) Altman takes the basic story and tells it as film; there is colour, imagery, music, sound, atmosphere and acting at his command, all of which Altman uses well. Damn it all, he’s had enough practice! The film is edgy and constantly gripping, Altman never one to flag his moves in advance. Together with the outstanding performances, the storm-saturated Savannah settings and the richly observed characters, The Gingerbread Man is thoroughly entertaining, handsomely made, and absolutely absorbing."
Andrew L. Urban

"There’s a storm brewing in Savannah, and we’re not just talking about the weather. Rich in textures and atmosphere, Robert Altman’s The Gingerbread Man is quite unlike previous John Grisham tales, in that the central character is not a green, fledgling lawyer, but established and successful - at the beginning, anyway. However, nothing is quite what it seems as an intriguing web of deceit is spun, and absorbing characters leave their mark. Altman is a master at creating multi-layered characters; characters whose quirkiness generate space and fascination; each has more to offer than initially meets the eye. It’s a superb cast, headed by Kenneth Branagh whose complexity is portrayed as effortlessly as the sheets of blinding rain that are teeming down. Daryl Hannah makes an effective assistant, paid to keep good judgement - and she does. All the women here are tall, slim and brunette - and each has a strong presence, with Embeth Davidtz haunting as Mallory. Robert Downey Jnr is wonderfully debauched, while Robert Duval shows his versatility as the violent father who wears no shoes and emulates the fabled Gingerbread Man - always running, and never being caught. The Gingerbread Man is a genre film where the ambiance and quirks elevate it beyond the average thriller, but Grisham’s plot becomes rather far-fetched and exaggerated as the eye of the storm hits. The tension mounts suspensefully in tandem with the storm, while Mark Isham’s ominous score simmers expectantly before shattering into jagged explosions of sound."
Louise Keller

"On the one hand, it would be fair to say that as mainstream thrillers go, The Gingerbread Man is an accomplished, above average thriller, a polished, entertaining yarn, which keeps one involved throughout. The film has all the right ingredients: Well developed plot, superbly executed atmosphere, some strong performances [and some not too strong] and plenty of interesting twists and turns. On a basic level, there's nothing wrong with the film, but for Robert Altman, it's a work far inferior to anything he's ever done. From the director of such landmark classics as Nashville and M*A*S*H, one somehow expects something with a greater deal of audacity, with depth, but there's none of that. Altman is far better than this, and why he decided to do a Grisham thriller is anyone's guess. The material is surprisingly conservative and mainstream, an engagingly atmospheric potboiler that could have been helmed by anyone. For the most part, the film is eminently watchable, and Branagh is surprisingly convincing, as is beautiful Embeth Davidtz. The rest of the principal cast, however, flounders along with little to do. Robert Downey Jnr would have to be the screen's dullest actor, and in this, he does little to alter that perception; Daryl Hannah looks ludicrous in short brunette wig and glasses, and her performance is as mousy as her character, while Robert Duvall, blusters and overacts his way as an underdefined character whose actions are irritatingly implausible. It's Branagh that holds this film together, and he does well, and it's a taut thriller, but one that lacks the panache of an Altman film."
Paul Fischer



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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 2
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GINGERBREAD MAN, THE (M)
(US)

 

CAST: Kenneth Branagh, Embeth Davidtz, Robert Downey Jr, Daryl Hannah, Tom Berenger, Famke Janssen, Mae Whitman, Jesse James, Robert Duvall

PRODUCERS: Jeremy Tannenbaum

DIRECTOR: Robert Altman

SCRIPT: Al Hayes (based on an original story by John Grisham)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Changwei Gu

EDITOR: Geraldine Peroni

MUSIC: Mark Isham

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Stephen Altman

RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes

 

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 11, 1998







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