Monday, September 5, 2011
Hired to find a missing millionaire, Harper soon finds himself neck-deep in weird California shenanigans, from aging starlets and wheelchair-bound misfits to cult leaders, cult financiers, and trafficking in illegal immigrants. Harper takes a lot of punishment along the way, and dishes some out, while trying to put the pieces of an increasingly bizarre mystery together.
William Goldman's screenplay is sharp and funny, the sort of writing one doesn't get a lot of from Hollywood any more. Harper, another wounded knight errant, really does take an astonishing amount of physical punishment -- like Bogart in The Maltese Falcon, he takes so many blows to the head that he should probably start wearing a helmet.
A subplot involving Harper's soon-to-be-ex-wife (Leigh) offers some character depth, though it could probably have been jettisoned to streamline things a bit more -- in this sort of film, it's the twisty plot and weird characters we want more of, not the domestic travails of the hero. Newman is charming as ever. Harper chews gum with such violence throughout that one one wonders if he's quitting smoking -- or if Newman was. Followed by an inferior sequel, The Drowning Pool. Recommended.