Paul N., Here..
Bowling. Bowling is a game of skill and luck. It also has absolutely nothing to do with the film, The Barber. However, it wasn’t an entirely arbitrary mention either. If you have ever bowled, you know the anguish of watching the ball roll down the center of the lane only to veer off into the gutter at the last possible moment. Unfortunately this too was the fate of The Barber.
It’s difficult to explain the plot of this film considering so much of what happens depends on the slow reveal of motives and identities. To really explain it, would be to unravel the very mystery behind it. The film begins with a flashback of a detective in a passionate pursuit of a suspected serial killer that ends with the suspect going free on a technicality and the defeated detective committing suicide as he watches his life’s pursuit go down the drain. Cut to 20 years later, and a stranger (played by Chris Coy) appears in a small town shadowing an elderly barber, Eugene (played surprisingly well by Scott Glenn), around town. The stranger, John, approaches Eugene, determined to force him to admit his true identity. What follows is an entertaining, though underdeveloped, game of intrigue and suspense.
The Barber does an excellent job of setting up the intrigue through most of the film with the true motives of Eugene and John constantly in question. In look and feel, it echoes the cat and mouse game of Mr. Brooks, though with much less polish and style. It does a solid job of drawing the viewer in on a compelling web on intrigue that slowly builds as the pieces fall into place. Like the Kevin Costner thriller, a stranger with an interest in the darker side of life, confronts and attempts to blackmail a supposed killer. In both films, the killer is methodical, calculated, and highly intelligent. And, in both films, the blackmailing stranger is in way over his head, though he doesn’t believe this to be the case. The pieces of the puzzle are put together in a compelling manner that makes you slowly doubt what you thought you knew from the beginning. It becomes increasingly interesting as the film carefully depicts how seemingly innocuous acts done along the way build together towards a chilling conclusion.
However, the film falters at a rapid pace in the middle of the third act in the middle of the climax. While Mr. Brooks shines in taking viewers down an evil proverbial rabbit hole, The Barber seems hesitant to delve too deeply into such dark waters. Character motives are inexplicably revoked at the height of the intrigue as Eugene and John abandon everything they built seemingly at a whim in what feels like a producer re-written timid conclusion. The suck-out ending is a huge disappointment in what could otherwise have been a very solid film. Had the film been allowed to conclude on the course that it clearly had been heading down, the ending would have been drastically different and much more interesting. Unfortunately, the change is so drastic that it drags the rest of the film down and nearly invalidates the entirety of it.
This is not the only fault of this film. Considering that the film focuses entirely upon two main characters, the strength of the acting is paramount. Scott Glenn does a wonderful job playing the loveable elderly barber with a potentially dark past. However, Chris Coy’s portrayal of John is an odd case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. When he portrays his character’s darker side, he is compelling, but when he attempts the softer side, he comes across as wooden and amateurish. It is tough to care about a character which such night and day differences. With Mr. Brooks, the audience gets a stylish glimpse into the mind of the protagonist through a superb delivery by William Hurt. There is no such savior, nor any such directorial style present here.
While this film is indeed entertaining (save for the ending), there exists a more polished and satisfying predecessor to the same concept in Mr. Brooks. You would be better off looking there. Still, despite a horrid finale, the build-up is worth the ride.
3 “Shave and a Haircut” Tunes out of 5
– Paul Nimon