Gingerbread Man, The

The Gingerbread Man, directed by Robert Altman from a story by John
Grisham is a kind of cross between Deliverance and Fatal
—that is a meditation on how bad things happen to nice yuppies
when they fall victim to wily backwoodsmen or
“white trash
tramps” or various sorts of throwbacks
still lurking around the edges of their soft, liberal good intentions. Favored
for the part of atavistic reminders of what liberal middle
America’s moral progress—towards
tolerance, trust, compassion, non-violence and general as well as sexual
liberality—is supposed to have left behind are bogeymen like the excellent Mr
Robert Duvall, doing one of his crazy hillbilly numbers. Yet the movie never
quite manages to scare us as both Deliverance and Fatal Attraction

For one thing, the plot is too unbelievable. I cannot reveal too much of it
without spoiling the enjoyment of those who may want to ignore my recommendation
and see the movie anyway, but this hesitancy is pro forma. I would be
disappointed in my readers if they could not see the ending coming a long way
before the end. As so often in these cases, we are asked to believe, on the one
hand, that someone is a certifiable lunatic and carpet chewer and, on the other
hand, that he has amazing powers of guile and resourcefulness to disrupt the
lives of ostensibly intelligent people to whom he has taken an irrational
dislike. The irrationality and the weird, almost superhuman powers are both
necessary to confer on the avenging hillbilly, especially if he is
associated—as he almost invariably is and is again here—with religious belief
in the form of some bizarre cult or other.

I should add that there is also an essential piece of information which is, I
think, unfairly withheld from the audience, though once revealed it completely
gives the game away. Anybody can construct a thriller simply by not telling the
audience relevant facts. The art of the genre is to reveal the facts and let the
audience try (unsuccessfully, of course) to put them together in such a way as
to reach the right conclusion. I also objected to the
film’s raising the issue of tension
between the police and a sharp defense attorney who has recently been defending
a criminal who has shot a policeman. Suddenly the attorney himself needs police
protection, or finds himself in a position to defend himself as the shot cop had
done, and the police won’t help him. This is an interesting idea, but it is
raised only to be dropped again almost immediately, and it has no bearing on the

Kenneth Branagh, who is often a splendid actor (usually when he is not
directing himself), does a fine job with the lawyer, Rick Magruder, catching
just the right mix of seediness, corruption and decency. He does the Savannah
accent—to my ear—flawlessly and even manages that hitherto almost completely
unmastered shibboleth of Americanisms for transplanted Britons, the double d in
Embeth Davidtz, by contrast, seems not quite up to the job of the white trash
tramp, Mallory Doss, perhaps feeling a bit overawed by
Branagh’s high-power star-turn
opposite her. Famke Janssen may be miscast as
Branagh’s ex-wife—it is hard to tell
because she has so little to do—but Darryl Hannah is definitely wasted in the
role of Rick’s legal factotum, Lois.
Mr Duvall, Robert Downey Jr and Tom Berenger in supporting roles all do
competent and workmanlike jobs of impersonating Messrs Duvall, Downey Jr. and
Berenger respectively.

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